Full list: Agriculture in the News

VT Digger: Private donations boost GMO legal defense kitty to $160,000

John Herrick
Jul. 28 2014
Full Article

Vermont has raised more than $160,000 in private donations to help defend what would be the nation’s first GMO labeling law.

While the majority of these private donations have come from individuals, national advocacy groups are also lending their support. And last week, two consumer advocacy groups filed a motion to intervene on behalf of Vermont to defend the law in court.

Vermont’s law requires food manufacturers and retailers to label certain products containing genetically modified ingredients starting in 2016. The Grocery Manufacturers Association and other national trade groups are suing Vermont, claiming the law is unconstitutional.

State officials estimate spending as much as $8 million to defend the law. The state is accepting donations to a special fund at foodfightfundvt.org.

The liberal advocacy group, MoveOn.org, made the largest single donation of $52,000 earlier this month, nearly doubling the amount of money in the fund at the time. The group is lobbying other states to pass GMO labeling legislation.

Two Minnesota philanthropists added $50,000 on July 17. The trustees with the private foundation Ceres Trust, Kent Whealy and Judith Kern, have a history of pushing for GMO labeling policies in Hawaii and California.

The foundation supports “organic research initiatives,” including “programs to eliminate pesticide exposure and GMO contamination,” according to its website. It describes genetic engineering as the “most difficult food safety, environmental and health challenges of the 21st century.” The foundation says it supports the Center for Food Safety, a national consumer advocacy group seeking to help Vermont defend its law in court.

Among the state’s other top donors are some that are represented by the trade groups suing the state.

The New Hampshire organic dairy products manufacturer Stonyfield Farm donated $5,000, the state’s third-largest donation. Stonyfield Farm is a member of the International Dairy Foods Association, which is among the trade groups suing the state over its labeling law.

Ben & Jerry’s in June announced it would rename its fudge brownie flavor for the month of July and donate $1 for every scoop of “Food Fight Fudge Brownie” sold at its locations in Burlington and Waterbury into the fund.

Among the other top donors are the Vermont Community Foundation, which has donated $2,000, and Toronto’s natural foods grocery co-op, the Big Carrot, which donated $1,000. Gov. Peter Shumlin also donated $100.

Vermont has hired a Washington, D.C., law firm to help defend the law. Russell, Englert, Orseck, Untereiner & Sauber was awarded a $1.465 million contract this month.

The private donations to date equal about 9 percent of that contract.

Sarah Clark, deputy commissioner of the Department of Finance and Management, said even with minimal marketing of the GMO fund, “we’ve really seen a significant increase in the last few weeks.”

The state’s response to the lawsuit is due Aug. 8.


Valley Advocate: Seeds of Rebellion

Vermont becomes a hotbed of resistance to high-tech agribiz.
7/2/14

It was the “Bring it on” law—a law that came out of the Vermont Legislature with a built-in weapon against an expected challenge.

Vermont’s GMO labeling law, passed this spring, required that most foods and seeds offered for sale in the state be labeled if they contained genetically manipulated elements. It also provided for a legal defense fund, the Vermont Food Fight Fund, in case the state were sued by the food industry and large agricultural firms engaged in the sale of genetically engineered seeds.

Attorneys general in some states might have been reluctant to see a law passed that would so obviously be a red flag to a well-capitalized industry, but Vermont’s attorney general Bill Sorrell was nothing daunted. “Our office did go before the legislature and testify that we expected a legal challenge, and laid out the possible risks that the law would face,” Assistant Attorney General Megan Shafritz, who heads up Sorrell’s civil litigation department, told the Advocate. “But our office is absolutely prepared to defend this law against all challenges, and we’re not afraid to do that. I think the Legislature was responsible and carrying out what they felt our citizens wanted.”

To no one’s surprise, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (of which Monsanto is a member), the Snack Food Association, the International Dairy Foods Association and the Association of Manufacturers have now filed suit to overturn the Vermont law. The named defendants include Sorrell, Gov. Peter Shumlin, Department of Health commissioner Harry Chen, and James Reardon, commissioner of the Department of Finance and Management.

Connecticut and Maine also have GMO labeling laws, and another is pending in Massachusetts; no litigation cannon has been aimed at those states. But Vermont’s law is different. The laws passed or pending in the other New England states require that several other contiguous states pass similar laws before those now passed would go into effect, and that the population of all those states total 20 million. Vermont’s law has no external trigger; it would go into effect in 2016 independently of the passage or failure of any other GMO labeling law in any other state. Because it has no trigger, Vermont’s law is the first of its kind in the country.

However, Vermont’s law would add to the number of states necessary to trigger the implementation of laws in other states, such as Massachusetts. For the industry, the moment is strategic: a GMO law is being mulled in New York, and if it passed, that would add another state contiguous with Connecticut and Massachusetts—and with a population of 19 million—to the critical mass of Northeastern states with GMO labeling laws. Even before it filed suit against Vermont, the food industry was pushing a law in Congress that would prohibit mandatory GMO labeling and nullify state GMO labeling laws.

It makes sense that Vermont would be a leader of the resistance to agricultural monopolies. The tradition of small farming runs deep in this state, which has more direct farm-to-consumer sales per capita—more farm stands, farmers’ markets and CSA (comunity-supported agriculture) farms—than any state in the country. Organic sales also constitute a larger percentage of farm sales here than in any other state.

In Vermont, the preferences of many consumers as well as farmers are for food grown in a transparent, decentralized way that favors stakeholders rather than shareholders. Many Vermonters “have been around a long time and understand how difficult it is to make a living as a farmer and what difference that connection to the consumer makes—that understanding of how people farm their produce and their products,” said Sabine Rhyne, community relations manager for the Brattleboro Food Coop.

So far, most of the arguments pro and con about GMO labeling have centered around food safety, but another issue underlies the controversy about GMO foods and the labeling of them: the issue of plant patenting and monoculture. GMO foods and GMO seeds are products whose DNA is their creators’ property; consumers who purchase them are buying into a system that has drastically restricted the variety of plant material available for use as food and/or medicine. Today 10 multinational companies own 73 percent of the world’s commercial seeds. So much seed material is corporate property, according to seed farmer Tom Stearns of Wolcott, Vt., that “the major contemporary challenge that organic and public seed breeders face is a critical shortage of varieties that haven’t been patented.”

This spring, High Mowing became one of only two companies in the country (the other is Wild Garden Seed of Philomath, Ore.) to sell seeds produced by the new Open Source Seed Initiative, a venture created by University of Wisconsin researcher Irwin Goldman. The OSSI was formed to counteract the concentration of seeds in the hands of a few companies. So far it has created a “protected commons” of 37 seed varieties that are released on condition that no property rights can be attached to them or to plants bred from them.

In the long run, the role of companies like High Mowing may be decisive in the conflict between high-tech corporate agriculture and farming based on natural systems. Goldman’s dream is that the Open Source Seed Initiative will grow into an agricultural movement that will someday produce “open-source” foods—foods that would be labeled as such when they appear for sale in grocery stores.

As Vermont prepares to square off with the food industry in court, Ben and Jerry’s is skimming a part of the proceeds from its recently renamed Food Fight Fudge Brownie ice cream to donate to the legal defense fund; the Organic Consumers Association is harvesting money for the fund; and the state has mounted an attractive website (http://www.foodfightfundvt.org) to lure donations. Meanwhile, the Open Source Seed Initiative is fighting the same battle on another front.

“The Open Source Seed Initiative is the first definitive step towards reclaiming our access to plant genetic material, which has largely been privatized by the same corporations that develop GMOs,” says Stearns. “GMO agriculture is already losing ground as consumers begin speaking out against GMOs and in favor of labeling, but we also need a positive alternative. Unpatented organic and open source seeds are our most powerful tools for rebuilding a healthy, sustainable food supply.”•


Times Argus: GMO labeling law lands allies

July 23,2014
By Neal Goswami
Full Article

MONTPELIER — Two advocacy groups are looking to help defend the state against an industry group lawsuit against Vermont’s GMO labeling law.

The Vermont Public Interest Research Group and the Center for Food Safety say they have filed papers to formally move for party status in the lawsuit against Act 120, which was signed into law in May by Gov. Peter Shumlin. It requires the labeling of food with genetically engineered ingredients.

The two groups want to intervene on behalf of the state to assist in defending the law. Both groups are being represented jointly by lawyers from CFS and the Vermont Law School’s Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association, the largest group of food manufacturers in the country, as well as the Snack Food Association, International Dairy Foods Association and National Association of Manufacturers, filed suit against the law about a month after it was signed. The state’s response to the suit is due Aug. 8.

The food industry has poured tens of millions of dollars into anti-labeling campaigns in other states, according to the groups.

“Corporations don’t get a veto in the state of Vermont,” said George Kimbrell, a senior attorney for CFS who will serve as the lead attorney for VPIRG and CFS. “We will vigorously defend this legally sound and important law, which is critical to our members and our mission.”

Paul Burns, executive director of VPIRG, said his group is prepared to contribute resources to help the state defend the law.

“Vermonters take their food seriously, and this law gives them the information they need to make informed purchasing choices,” Burns said. “VPIRG will do whatever we can to defend the GMO labeling law from corporate bullies who would rather keep consumers in the dark about what’s in their food.”

Falko Schilling, VPIRG’s leading advocate for GMO labeling, said it is unclear exactly how much the legal effort will cost.

Attorney General Bill Sorrell has said Assistant Attorney General Megan J. Shafritz, chief of the attorney general’s civil division, will serve as the lead attorney for the state. The litigation team defending the law will include in-house attorneys Jon Alexander, Kyle Landis-Marinello and Naomi Sheffield. It will also employ attorneys from the Washington, D.C., firm Robbins, Russell, Englert, Orseck, Untereiner & Sauber LLP, which struck a $1.465 million contract with Sorrell’s office.

Sorrell told lawmakers the legal effort could cost the state as much as $8 million if it loses the case.

Vermont’s law, set to take effect in July 2016, is seen as a key battle in whether or not food companies will be required to label products with genetically modified ingredients. Two other states, Connecticut and Maine, have passed food labeling laws that are contingent on other states passing similar legislation. And Oregon has a ballot initiative on the November ballot.

Mary-Kay Swanson, executive assistant to Sorrell, who was out of state Tuesday, said the state is not opposing intervention by VPIRG and CFS, but the court will decide if they meet the legal standard for party status. She said the state is planning to mount a strong defense regardless.

“There’s no question that the state will vigorously defend this law and that we have the resources and expertise at our disposal,” she said. “In no way will this case be hindered by us having to pinch pennies.”

Schilling said both VPIRG and CFS can help boost the state’s defense of the law if they are granted party status.

“This is an issue that we have been involved with … and we have a long history of working on and we feel we can bring a lot of things to the table,” Schilling said. “That’s why we’re pushing to intervene. We believe the law is constitutional and believe it will be upheld.”


Center for Food Safety: Vermont Public Interest Research Group and Center for Food Safety Move to Defend Vermont GE Labeling Law

Experts join forces to protect state from aggressive legal challenge by the food industry
July 21st, 2014
Full Press Release

Today, Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG) and Center for Food Safety (CFS) formally moved to defend Vermont’s genetically engineered (GE) food labeling law, Act 120. The groups filed legal papers to intervene on behalf of the State of Vermont in order to assist in defending Act 120 from a legal challenge brought by the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and other food industry trade associations. They are represented jointly by counsel from CFS and Vermont Law School’s Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic (ENRLC). Act 120 was signed into law on May 8, 2014. GMA, which represents the country’s largest food manufacturers and has poured tens of millions of dollars into anti-labeling campaigns in other states, sued Vermont just over a month after the law was signed.

“Corporations don’t get a veto in the state of Vermont,” said George Kimbrell, senior attorney for Center for Food Safety. “We will vigorously defend this legally sound and important law, which is critical to our members and our mission.”

“Vermonters take their food seriously, and this law gives them the information they need to make informed purchasing choices,” said Paul Burns, executive director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group. “VPIRG will do whatever we can to defend the GMO labeling law from corporate bullies who would rather keep consumers in the dark about what’s in their food.”

“With this filing, we’re very proud to be taking our first step in defending Vermont’s law. We’ve seen Act 120 this far and aren’t going to give up now – it’s a strong law that deserves protection,” said Laura Murphy, associate director of the ENRLC, which represented VPIRG throughout Act 120’s legislative process.

The Vermont law is scheduled to take effect in July 2016. Two other states, Connecticut and Maine, passed GE food labeling laws with effective dates contingent on other states passing similar legislation. Oregon also has a ballot initiative on GE labeling in November 2014.  There are currently 64 countries with labeling laws and 70 state bills were introduced in 2013-2014, in 30 different states.

Act 120 was carefully considered by several committees before the Vermont legislature passed it and the governor signed it into law. The GE food labeling law received the support of a strong coalition of citizens groups such as VPIRG and the Vermont Right to Know GMOs coalition, which includes Rural Vermont, NOFA-Vermont, and Cedar Circle Farm. VPIRG and The Vermont Right to Know coalition were essential, spearheading statewide policy and grassroots campaign efforts for several years.

GMA represents the country’s largest food manufacturers, which already label GE foods all over the world, but have forcefully fought efforts to label here in the U.S. For example, GMA spent over 13 million dollars to oppose 2012 and 2013 GE labeling ballot initiatives in California and Washington. GMA has also supported a bill in Congress that would preempt states from pursuing labeling laws, even in the absence of a federal standard. To help implement and defend its law, Vermont included in Act 120 a voluntary “food fight fund” provision to solicit public donations.


Huffington Post: Americans Are Too Stupid For GMO Labeling, Congressional Panel Says

By Michael McAuliff
07/10/2014
Full Article & video

WASHINGTON — It’s pretty rare that members of Congress and all the witnesses they’ve called will declare out loud that Americans are just too ignorant to be given a piece of information, but that was a key conclusion of a session of the House Agriculture Committee this week.

The issue was genetically modified organisms, or GMOs as they’re often known in the food industry. And members of the subcommittee on Horticulture, Research, Biotechnology, and Foreign Agriculture, as well as their four experts, agreed that the genetic engineering of food crops has been a thorough success responsible for feeding the hungry, improving nutrition and reducing the use of pesticides.

People who oppose GMOs or want them labeled so that consumers can know what they’re eating are alarmists who thrive on fear and ignorance, the panel agreed. Labeling GMO foods would only stoke those fears, and harm a beneficial thing, so it should not be allowed, the lawmakers and witnesses agreed.

“I really worry that labeling does more harm than good, that it leads too many people away from it and it diminishes the market for GMOs that are the solution to a lot of the problems we face,” said David Just, a professor at Cornell University and co-director of the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs.

Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) agreed with another witness, Calestous Juma, an international development professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School, that political leaders had been cowed by misinformed populaces into bending on GMOs, especially in the European Union, where Juma said hundreds of millions of euros have been spent on studies that have found GMOs safe.

“It’s obvious that while the science in the EU in incontrovertible about the health and safety benefits of genetically modified hybrid crops, that because of politics, people are afraid to lead, and inform consumers,” Schrader said.

Juma cited an extensive report by the European Commission. (There is at least one controversial group that disagrees with him.)

Certainly, there is misinformation about GMOs, as highlighted in a New York Times feature on a Hawaiian ban of most GMOs. But entirely missing from the hearing was any suggestion that there are real concerns about the impact of genetically engineered food, such as the growth of pesticide-resistant “super weeds,” over-reliance on single-crop factory farming, decreased biodiversity, and a lack of a consistent approval process. (Read more pros and cons here.)

The issue may soon gain fresh relevance on Capitol Hill, where a measure backed by Reps. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) and G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) to stop states from requiring GMO labeling could get marked up as early as September. The bill also would allow genetically engineered food to be labeled “100 percent natural.”

The idea of the bill brought Ben and Jerry’s co-founder Jerry Greenfield to Capitol Hill Thursday to push back, along with Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), who backs labeling.

Greenfield told HuffPost that labeling is a simple, inexpensive matter of letting people know what’s in their food, and letting them decide what they want to support and eat.

“This idea that consumers will be scared away — the label will be a very simple thing, a few words on a container saying something like ‘may be produced with genetic engineering.’ It’s not scary,” Greenfield said.


National Family Farm Coalition: Vermont’s GMO Labeling and Raw Milk Access Gain Legal Status

By Andrea Stander
Summer 2014 Newsletter
Full Article
On May 8, Governor Peter Shumlin signed Vermont’s “no-strings-attached” GMO Food Labeling bill into law (Act 120), which is also first in the nation. This is a huge victory for everyone who eats and wouldn’t have been possible without the enormous support of not only Vermont citizens and dedicated activists but many from around the country these past three legislative sessions. Thank you to everyone who worked so hard to achieve this important step in protecting our right to choose the food that supports our values. You can see a slide show of photos from the GMO Labeling Bill Signing Ceremony here.
The VT Right to Know Coalition, of which Rural Vermont is a founding member, will continue its work in several areas: We are assembling all the lessons we learned and resources we gathered during the campaign to share with other states working GMO labeling bills and ballot initiatives.
We will develop materials to help Vermont citizens participate in the Attorney General’s rule-making process to implement the GMO Labeling law.
We are supporting the effort to raise money to support implementation and
defense of the new law through the Vermont Food Fight Fund that Governor
Shumlin announced when he signed the bill. If you or your organization can
help spread the word about the fund it will be greatly appreciated. We need to show the corporate bullies that  there is broad and deep support for the right to know what is in our food.
Grocery Manufacturers’ Association, et. al., file suit
Late in the afternoon of Thursday, June 12, the Grocery Manufacturers’
Association and industrial food allies the Snack Food Association, International
Dairy Foods Association and National Association of Manufacturers, filed a law-
suit in federal district court to strike down Vermont’s law.
Although the lawsuit does not raise any unexpected issues, it does mark the
beginning of what will likely be a landmark legal battle over the people’s right to
know vs. corporate right to hide.
This summer Rural Vermont’s Board and staff will be developing plans for our
next steps in addressing the broader concerns related to genetically engineered
food and corporate control of our food system. For more information, write andrea@ruralvermont.org or call 802-522-3284.
Raw Milk Bill Becomes Law: Farmers’ Markets Delivery Began July 1!
On Tuesday, May 27, Governor Peter Shumlin signed S.70, now Act 149, into
law. The new law makes modest improvements to the statute governing the
production and sale of raw milk in Vermont.
After hearing testimony on opposing sides from state and national experts, the
Legislature made improvements to the current raw milk law, including authorizing the delivery of raw milk to farmers’ markets for Tier 2 producers. Although
Act 149 makes only modest improvements in providing greater access to raw
milk, taking testimony and debating the bill significantly raised the profile of raw
milk among legislators and increased the level of respect for the farmers who
provide this esteemed product.
Act 149 will provide the following improvements in access to raw milk:
As of July 1, 2014, Tier 2 raw milk producers are able to deliver raw milk to existing customers at farmers’ markets where they sell. (Existing customer means someone who previously made a visit to the farm to make their initial purchase of raw milk.) Act 149 changes the daily sales limit to an aggregate weekly limit for both Tier 1 and Tier 2 producers, providing greater flexibility for farmers and convenience for customers. There are some additional requirements regarding cold storage capacity and protection of shelf life. Act 149 also clarifies that raw milk producers need only provide the “opportunity” for customers to take a tour of their farm.
.
For more details about these changes to the law, please read Rural Vermont’s Fact Sheet on Act 149. You may also read our updated “cheat sheet” on the requirements for Tier 1 and Tier 2 producers. Rural Vermont will reach out to raw milk producers and customers about opportunities offered by the new law. We will also continue our campaign for commonsense, scale-appropriate regulation of raw dairy and all other farm fresh food. For more information, write shelby@ruralvermont.org or call the office at 802-223-7222.

LA Times Op-Ed: A tip for American farmers: Grow hemp, make money


NPR: Raw Milk Producers Aim To Regulate Themselves


My Champlain Valley: Raw Milk Can Now Be Delivered to VT Farmers Markets

By Kristen Tripodi
07/01/2014
Full Article & Video

Starting Tuesday, raw milk can be delivered to farmers markets in Vermont. It’s all a part of a new law that was signed by Governor Peter Shumlin during the 2014 legislative session.

According to Rural Vermont—an organization that represents farmers, the new law says raw milk can be delivered to farmers’ markets by Tier 2 raw milk producers.

It gives increased access to markets for raw milk producers by allowing delivery to farmers’ markets.

The new law does not allow farmers to sell the raw milk at a farmers market. They can only deliver the product to customers who have already paid for the product.

To review the new law, click here.


Times Argus: Farmers markets get a raw (milk) deal

By Eric Blaisdell
July 06,2014
Full Article

MONTPELIER — History was made Saturday at the Capital City Farmers Market as raw milk was delivered for the first time under a new law — though the man delivering the milk wishes the new rules had gone even further.

Act 149, legislation that allows dairy farmers to deliver raw milk to farmers markets, went into effect July 1. The farmers can’t outright sell the milk at the markets, but can hand it over to customers who purchased the product previously.

The law requires a potential customer to first go to the farm where they want to purchase the raw milk. After one visit, the customer can thereafter purchase milk from the farmer without going to the farm.

The state already regulates who can sell raw milk, breaking farmers into two tiers, with the second tier reserved for bigger producers. Tier-two farmers, or those who sell up to 280 gallons of raw milk per week, were allowed to sell the milk at their farms or deliver to the customer’s home, before the recent law expanding delivery to farmers markets.

Frank Huard, a goat farmer from Craftsbury Common, was the first at the farmers market in Montpelier to take advantage of the new law. The Huard Family Farm has won the state’s highest quality milk award for its goat’s milk from the Vermont Dairy Industry Association in 2009, 2011 and 2013.

Huard said being able to deliver the milk at farmers markets is important because it gives small farmers the opportunity to expand into larger markets. It’s also more convenient for both the farmer and the consumer to pick up the milk at a spot where both were planning to be anyway.

Even so, Huard said he was disappointed the law requires customers to visit his farm before they can purchase his milk.

“It’s difficult for some people,” he said. “It’s just not convenient to ask them to drive all the way to Craftsbury to purchase milk. People are busy. I’m almost an hour away, so if they come and stay for 15 or 20 minutes and drive back, that’s almost three hours of (their) time.”

Huard said he had hoped the law would allow him to pick up new customers at the farmers market, not just at his farm. But he said he’d take the law as it is for now, calling it baby steps in the right direction for making raw milk more easily accessible to consumers in Vermont.

The man who was picking up the goat’s milk delivery from Huard was Alan LePage, owner and operator of LePage Farm in Barre. LePage also sells his own produce at the Capital City Farmers Market and is president of the Barre Farmers Market.

LePage said the new law was written because of farmers like Huard, and that people should be free to choose the food they want.

“I resent the fact that the state seems to think they know better than anyone else about the subject,” LePage said.

He said raw milk, which he has been drinking for 40 years, is no more dangerous than any other food or drink.

“The risks of raw milk spoilage are much less than they are with pasteurized milk,” LePage said. “The risks (of raw milk) are vastly exaggerated. If pasteurized milk spoils, there’s all kinds of bad things that can get into it. Whereas, raw milk generally makes cheese (when it spoils). You put it in a goat skin and travel to the other side of the hill on a 90 degree day, you’ve got cheese. That’s how cheese was invented. You can’t do that with pasteurized milk.”

LePage said raw milk has enzymes that pasteurized milk doesn’t. Those enzymes help keep certain pathogens out of raw milk.

As to why our food producers long ago started to pasteurize milk, he said it began when people started producing adulterated milk in what he called “dungeons” in the cities.

“Basically (the cows) were fed waste from breweries and basic inedible substances and the milk they produced was horrible,” he said. “People were dying from it. Rather than clean up these places and ban them, they simply insisted that all milk be pasteurized.”