Full list: Agriculture in the News
By BOB AUDETTE
BRATTLEBORO — A federal judge has denied a motion to allow two groups to become interveners in a lawsuit filed against the state by the Grocery Manufacturers Association.
However, wrote Judge Christina Reiss, the Vermont Public Interest Research Group and the Center for Food Safety will be allowed to file friend of the court briefs in support of the state’s new law concerning the labeling of food products containing genetically engineered products.
In June, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the Snack Food Association, the International Dairy Foods Association and the National Association of Manufacturers filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont a lawsuit to overturn Act 120, which requires manufacturers and retailers to identify whether raw and processed food sold in Vermont was produced in while or in part through genetic engineering.
The law is intended to go into effect on July 1, 2016, unless Reiss issues an injunction, which the plaintiffs have requested. In August, the Vermont Attorney General’s Office filed a motion to dismiss. A hearing for oral arguments in support and opposed to the motions has been tentatively scheduled for Dec. 18 or 19.
In denying intervener status to VPIRG and CFS, Reiss noted that the two organizations have demonstrated “a significant interest” in the passage of Act 120 and would be “impaired” if it was held unconstitutional
She noted that the court need not resolve the question of necessity “because intervention is warranted only if (VPIRG and CFS) can also demonstrate that their interest in this case is not ‘protected adequately by the parties to the action.'”
In this case, wrote Reiss, the state’s interests in defending Act 120 are so similar to those of VPIRG and CFS that “adequacy of representation (is) assured.”
VPIRG and CFS had argued that the financial resources required to fight a lawsuit filed by plaintiffs with “sizable income and resources” raises fiscal concerns about the state’s ability to defend Act 120. However, wrote Reiss, if at any point the state indicates its financial resources are strained, the parties can renew their request for intervention.
The state’s strategy in defending Act 120 and VPIRG’s and CFS’ motive for litigation also are not a cause for intervention, wrote Reiss.
“Professed differences in trial strategy are insufficient to entitle a party to intervene …”
Because VPIRG and CFS intend to add to, rather than duplicate the state’s defense, wrote Reiss, they will be allowed to file memoranda as friends of the court.
In their motion for an injunction, the plaintiffs wrote Vermont’s law rests on philosophical or religious beliefs, concerns about large-scale agricultural operations, or biases against certain companies, which have nothing to do with the food itself.
They contend Act 120 is meant “to pacify a vocal segment of the population that opposes genetic engineering.”
The controversy is growing over whether foods should be labeled if they contain GMOs, “genetically modified organisms.” Vermont recently passed legislation requiring GMO labeling. Dozens of other states are considering similar actions. And labeling requirements are on the ballot in Oregon and Colorado this fall. Consumer Reports tested more than 80 processed foods to see just how widespread GMOs are and whether you can trust food labels.
About 90 percent of corn produced in the U.S. is now genetically modified, as with ssoybeans. Consumer Reports’ tests show GMOs can be in many foods, including these cereals, these snack bars and these soy-based infant formulas.
Since labeling is not required, you can’t tell by looking at the package, although some may say “No GMO,” “Non GMO” or “Non-GMO Project Verified.”
Consumer Reports tested a variety of products containing soy or corn for GMOs, at least 2 samples of each, each from a different lot.
“Unless they were labeled organic, the vast majority of products without a specific claim regarding GMOs actually did contain a substantial amount,” says Michael Crupain, M.D., M.P.H of Consumer Reports.
What about foods labeled “natural?” A Consumer Reports’ survey of one thousand people found that more than 60 percent believe “natural” means “no GMOs.” That’s not what the tests found.
“There is no legal definition for the claim ‘natural’ on processed foods,” says Crupain. “Virtually all the samples we tested that said “natural” but didn’t make claims about being organic or non GMO in fact contained a high percentage of GMOs.”
Then there are unverified claims, like “Non GMO.” Though not independently certified, they mostly proved accurate in Consumer Reports’ tests.
The one exception: these Xochitl corn chips, They’re labeled “no GMO,” but contained a high proportion of GMO corn in all six samples tested. Its “Organic” white corn chips did meet Consumer Reports’ standards for non-GMO.
“Our findings confirmed that the most reliable labels for avoiding GMOs are ‘Non-GMO Project Verified,’ or organic – both independently certified,” Crupain says.
A spokesperson for Xochitl chips told Consumer Reports that the company and its supplier “are both baffled” by Consumer Reports’ test results.
By Paul Heintz
Truth in Labeling
Shumlin’s reelection campaign dropped another $80,000 on television advertising last Thursday, bringing his TV total in the last month to $295,000. That’s more than the $285,000 he spent on the tube throughout his 2012 reelection campaign — and he’s still got a month to go before Election Day.
Is somebody a little nervous?
While the gov’s first two ads touched on pretty predictable themes — the minimum wage, college affordability and a whole lot of Tropical Storm Irene — his latest focuses on a surprising subject: GMO labeling.
Surprising because, well, Shumlin spent years arguing it was a risky proposition.
That ain’t how it plays on TV.
The ad features a Montpelier mother and daughter putting away groceries and inspecting the nutritional facts on a box of Cheerios. The mother tells the viewer she wants to “make good choices about what we eat,” so she’s “always checking the labels on our food.”
“That’s why I appreciate Gov. Shumlin’s work to make it the law that genetically modified foods be labeled, so we know what’s in them. That’s important to me,” the mom says. “It says a lot about Vermont that we’re the first state to require that. And it says a lot about Peter Shumlin that he made it happen.”
Made it happen?
Tell that to the folks at Rural Vermont, the Northeast Organic Farming Association and the Vermont Public Interest Research Group who spent years fighting for GMO labeling while the governor resisted it.
“I would just say there were a lot of people working on it for a very long time,” says Sen. David Zuckerman (P/D-Chittenden), who introduced the first such bill in the late 1990s. “It was good Gov. Shumlin joined us in the end to support a strong bill.”
For years, Shumlin said he backed GMO labeling in concept, but believed that mandating it was legally perilous. He argued that any such attempt would suffer the same fate as Vermont’s 1994 law requiring dairy products produced with recombinant bovine growth hormone to be labeled as such. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals struck it down in 1996 and awarded damages.
“It cost us a lot of money,” Shumlin said during an April 2012 press conference as he urged the House to shelve the bill.
“I believe that consumers have a right to know what they’re eating,” he continued. “I also know this is almost identical to the case that we lost in the U.S. Supreme Court, and it was a better court than we have now on these issues.”
Shumlin made much the same point in March 2013, telling an audience in Rutland, “The food industry took us to the Second Circuit. It was not only called unconstitutional for some very good reasons, but we had to pay the legal fees.”
Shumlin spokeswoman Sue Allen reads the record differently, saying, “I can’t remember or find a time in print when Gov. Shumlin opposed GMO labeling.”
Opposed it? That’d be a stretch. “Made it happen?” Also a stretch.
By the time advocates pushed the bill through the Senate last April, the governor had embraced it. In May, he held the biggest signing ceremony of the year on the Statehouse steps, comparing GMO labeling to other Vermont firsts, such as banning slavery and legalizing same-sex marriage.
These days, he brings it up at every campaign stop. Guess it polls well!
VPIRG executive director Paul Burns, who stood beside Shumlin at the signing ceremony, is diplomatic in his assessment of the governor’s position. Calling it “an evolutionary process,” Burns says that what’s important is that Shumlin eventually got to “yes.”
“It was an example of democracy working,” he says.
But really? Shumlin “made it happen?”
“Well, clearly he signed it,” Burns says. “So he made it happen!”
WASHINGTON, Sept. 26, 2014 – After a 16-month investigation, USDA says it’s been unable to determine how unapproved genetically-engineered wheat made its way into a farm field in Oregon last year.
The 12,842-page report, released today by USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), offers no conclusions as to how the plants, which contained a trait developed by Monsanto that makes them resistant to the herbicide glyphosate, came to grow in the field.
“We were not able to make a conclusion as to how it happened,” Bernadette Juarez, the director of investigation and enforcement services at APHIS and the chief investigator for the Oregon incident, said in a conference call with reporters.
The report, however, said the detection, which came to USDA’s attention in May 2013, appears to have been an isolated incident and there is no evidence GE wheat found its way into commercial channels.
Juarez said the theory that the wheat was planted intentionally — to undermine the acceptance of GE products — was explored, but could not be ruled out or confirmed.
She said the investigation was “one of the most thorough and scientifically detailed investigations ever conducted” through APHIS. She said her team closed the investigation that began on May 3, 2013, after exhausting all leads.
APHIS said it conducted 291 interviews with wheat growers, grain elevator operators, crop consultants, and wheat researchers. Investigators also collected more than 100 samples from businesses that sold or purchased the same certified seed planted in the field in Oregon, as well as from businesses that purchased the harvested grain from the grower.
“After exhausting all leads, APHIS was unable to determine exactly how the GE wheat came to grow in the farmer’s field,” the agency concluded.
Juarez also discussed a new investigation of GE wheat found growing in July at a Montana State University research center. Authorized field trials of GE wheat had been conducted at the site from 2000 to 2003.
Juarez said genetic testing shows that the GE wheat recently found at this research facility was similar to the wheat tested more than a decade earlier. It contains the same Monsanto trait that makes it resistant to glyphosate, and but she said the variety of the plant is “significantly different from the GE wheat found growing at the Oregon farm last year.”
The Montana incident affected between 1-3 acres in total. About 125 acres were investigated in the Oregon GE wheat discovery. APHIS said the investigation into the Montana incident is continuing, and emphasized that this event is not related to the event in Oregon.
Unauthorized biotech wheat was found growing this summer in Montana but it’s not the source of an earlier unauthorized release in Oregon, according to USDA.
Several acres of wheat volunteers genetically engineered by the Monsanto Co. to withstand glyphosate herbicides were found growing at a Montana State University research center in July, an agency official said Friday.
The site was used for field trials of “Roundup Ready” wheat between 2000 and 2003, said Bernadette Juarez, director of investigative and enforcement services at USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
The “Roundup Ready” genetic trait is the same as the one discovered by an Eastern Oregon farmer in the spring of 2013, but the wheat is otherwise genetically different, she said. The agency has closed its investigation into that incident without reaching firm conclusions as to its source.
The Oregon biotech wheat volunteers were not found near a previous field trial site and show genetic characteristics associated with a wheat breeding program, Juarez said.
Biotech wheat at MSU’s Southern Agricultural Research Center near Huntley, Mont., is less genetically diverse, she said. Its discovery was similar, however: a field was sprayed with glyphosate but the volunteers persisted.
Juarez said the agency has launched an investigation into the Montana incident but isn’t ready to say whether the biotech wheat volunteers are the offspring of several generations of the crop that repeatedly sprouted for more than a decade after the field trials.
The volunteers were growing on several acres but at a low density, she said. The acreage is smaller than in Oregon, where the biotech wheat grew on a portion of the farmer’s 125-acre field.
Because the Montana incident occurred at the site of a previous field trial, the USDA does not expect that foreign wheat buyers will stop imports of U.S. wheat, said Juarez.
In 2013, exports to Japan and South Korea were temporarily halted until a genetic testing protocol was established to screen for genetically engineered wheat.
“We remain confident wheat exports will continue without disruption,” she said.
The investigation into the unauthorized release in Oregon has ended without any determinations about the source of the biotech wheat, though USDA continues to believe it was an isolated incident and none of the crop entered commerce.
Testing has not found any genetically engineered traits in the U.S. wheat supply, Juarez said.
Investigators from APHIS followed numerous leads and were able to rule out several possible sources for the escape, she said. Their investigation generated about 13,000 pages of paperwork, which will be released to the public with names and other personal information redacted.
No enforcement action against Monsanto or any other party will be taken in connection with the Oregon incident, Juarez said.
The agency will be examining other field trial sites in multiple states and reviewing its policies for keeping biotech crops contained, she said.
The Center for Food Safety, a non-profit group that’s critical of the USDA’s biotech oversight, sees the new discovery in Montana as “alarming,” said George Kimbrell, an attorney for the group.
“I don’t know if it’s worse or better if they’re unrelated,” he said. “It indicates either two escapes or a bigger escape.”
By Morgan True
Oct. 1 2014
Raw milk producers held a news conference Wednesday to say new Agency of Agriculture policies are making an otherwise friendly law more burdensome.
The agency is simply implementing changes to the state’s raw milk regulations that became law this year, responded Diane Bothfeld, deputy secretary of dairy policy.
Those changes allow Tier 2 raw milk producers, or farmers generating more than 50 quarts per day, to deliver their product to customers’ homes or farmers markets.
Previously, raw milk could only be sold at the farm where it was produced. Since the new point of delivery rules became law, the number of Tier 2 producers has grown from two to eight with several more slated to increase production to that level soon, said Andrea Stander, director of Rural Vermont.
But the way the Agency is implementing the law change threatens that growth, Stander said.
The original raw milk law, passed in 2009, required producers to regularly send milk samples to certified labs to check bacteria levels. A new policy requires that samples be sent to labs in the containers in which the milk will be sold.
That requirement is wasteful and will make it costly to have their milk tested, milk producer Rich Larson said.
The new regulations took effect Wednesday, and Stander said despite a formal letter to the Agency of Agriculture, producers were not given an opportunity weigh in on how the rules would be implemented.
Rich and Cynthia Larson, Tier 2 producers from Wells, said the regulations were implemented “suddenly,” and caught them off guard.
The agency contacted all Tier 2 producers registered at the end of August and delayed implementation by a month, Bothfeld said, adding that the regulations were originally set to take effect in September.
The agency is implementing new laws, not going through a formal rulemaking process, Bothfeld said, and no public comment period was required.
However, Bothfeld said the agency is willing to take input from producers and Rural Vermont, but that can’t happen until early November because the agency needs time to review its own policies.
Farmers expressed concern that during the interim their businesses could suffer and they could face fines if they’re unable to comply with the new regulations.
Labs only need a two-ounce sample to test for bacteria, said Nick Zigelbaum, director of Bob-White Systems Inc., an FDA certified laboratory in South Royalton. Farmers typically sell their milk in half-gallon or quart containers.
Zigelbaum joined the producers and advocates Wednesday, because he said the state should be making it easier for farmers to have their products tested, not create barriers to testing.
Bothfeld said the new law requires that sale containers be tested in addition to the milk to ensure there’s no bacteria in the containers that’s not also in the milk.
Her agency, charged with implementing the change, decided that requiring samples to be sent in the sale container was the best way to do that.
In addition to Bob-White Systems, farmers can send their samples to the state-run lab, which is temporarily housed at the University of Vermont in Burlington.
Testing is free at the state lab, but Bothfeld acknowledged that for some producers, sending their samples to Burlington could be costly.
The agency is willing to see if there is another way to check sales containers for bacteria, Bothfeld said.
Producers must notify all delivery customers if a sample exceeds the bacteria threshold for raw milk.
Vermont’s raw milk law is based on the informed consent of consumers, Bothfeld said, and producers were previously able to meet that requirement by posting bacteria levels at the farm.
But now with additional points of delivery, consumers must be notified of the most recent bacteria counts at that place.
It’s not uncommon for producers to have milk retested to ensure accurate results, Larson said, but with the increased cost of testing, he’s worried he might lose customers or face fines.
Gov. Peter Shumlin walked passed the news conference on his way from the Statehouse, and took a moment to chat with farmers.
Shumlin voiced support for the fledgling raw milk industry, and said he drinks raw milk occasionally, but didn’t wade into the discussion.
Oct 01, 2014
Full Article & Video
MONTPELIER, Vt. – New policies on the sale of raw milk in Vermont started Oct. 1, and dairy farmers who sell the unpasteurized milk are crying foul.
At a press conference Wednesday, they said the new testing procedures will add unreasonable costs for farmers and will not produce a better product for consumers.
“We had a successful amendment to the raw milk law last spring from the Legislature which allow these tier two farmers to deliver their milk to their customers at farmers markets, which has opened up some economic opportunity for this part of the agricultural economy. This policy goes exactly in the opposite direction,” said Andrea Stander of the group Rural Vermont.
Rural Vermont, a farm advocacy group, is sending a formal letter of protest to the Agency of Agriculture, saying the new rules burden farmers with unjustified costs and discriminate against producers and consumers.