Full list: GMO News

Grist: Oregon county bans GMO crops

By Nathanael Johnson
May 21, 2014
Full Article

Voters in Jackson County, Oregon, passed a measure Tuesday prohibiting farmers from growing genetically engineered plants. Farmers had spearheaded the initiative, according to the Associated Press:

The effort to ban GMOs in Jackson County started two years ago when organic farmers learned the Swiss company Syngenta was growing sugar beet seed in local fields that was genetically altered to resist the popular weed killer Roundup. They wanted to protect their crops from being cross-pollinated by genetically modified ones.

Though seed companies spent nearly $1 million campaigning against it, the measure passed by a 2-to-1 margin. The Earth Island Journal has some on-the-ground color from farmers explaining why they pushed for the ban:

“If we saved our own seed like we want to, then we would be growing GMO beets and chard. It would be contaminated with that pollen,” said [Elise] Higley, who also serves as director of Our Family Farms Coalition, the primary group supporting measure 15-119. “It’s a real economic risk for farmers having those GMO crops so close by.”

On the other hand, the Oregonian points out that the defense of property rights cuts both ways:

“Fundamentally, growers can choose what crops they grow,” said Blake Rowe, CEO of the Oregon Wheat Growers League, which opposes the Jackson County measure. “This would really be the first example where one set of growers — those who don’t like GM crops — are going to tell all growers that they can and can’t grow certain crops in Jackson County.

A similar measure is expected to pass in Josephine County, just to the east. But the situation there is slightly different. That’s because last year Oregon passed a law that prevents local governments from regulating genetically engineered crops.

Jackson County is exempt from this law because its measure was already pending. Not so in Josephine County. If the measure becomes law there, it will almost certainly be challenged in the courts.


VT Digger: Trade group vows to sue over Vermont’s GMO labeling law

John Herrick
May. 12 2014
Full Article

The ink was barely dry on Vermont’s first-in-the-nation GMO labeling law when a national industry trade group declared it would seek to overturn it.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents cereal-maker General Mills, among others, said Friday it intends to sue the state to reverse the law.

Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell said Monday the state is prepared. “We’re expecting to be sued and we’ll put the A-team on the case if and when we are sued,” Sorrell said.

Food companies, retailers and biotechnology industry trade groups oppose Vermont’s law requiring manufacturers to put a one-line label on products containing genetically modified ingredients starting in 2016. Gov. Peter Shumlin signed the bill at an outdoor ceremony Thursday.

They say GMO crops pose no risk to human health or the environment; instead, they say the law will only increase food prices and complicate interstate commerce.

The vast majority of commodity crops grown in the U.S. are genetically engineered to ward off pests and withstand heavy herbicide applications. These products are used in the majority of the country’s processed foods.

Scientific research is inconclusive on whether GMO products are as safe for human consumption as their non-GMO counterparts. But environmentalists warn these crops can create untamable “super weeds” resistant to herbicides, forcing the agricultural industry to spray more weed-killing chemicals.

“So if as a consumer you’re concerned about the long-term health of our nation’s soils, water, flora and fauna … then that could be a decision as to why you don’t want to buy a GMO product,” Sen. David Zuckerman, P/D-Chittenden, a longtime legislative leader on the issue, said this month.

But industry groups say GMO production is better for the environment because farmers can produce more crops with less land, water and fuel.

More than two dozen states are considering labeling laws. Connecticut and Maine have passed laws that will go into effect only when neighboring states follow suit – a strategy designed to shield individual states from bearing the cost of trailblazing a policy that is loathed by well-heeled industry groups.

And now the second-smallest state in the nation is has picked a fight with some of the world’s largest food manufacturers, including General Mills, a $31 billion company that opposes state labeling initiatives and is a member of the GMA.

Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell. Photo by Roger Crowley

Sorrell estimates defending the law could cost $1 million to win and $5 million or more to lose. The state is stockpiling $1.5 million through state appropriations and settlement surpluses to defend the law. The state also announced last week at a bill signing that it is taking private donations through a newly created defense-fund website, Foodfightfundvt.org.

The state anticipates a host of constitutional challenges, including free speech protections, interference with interstate commerce and conflicts with federal law.

One reason is consumer demand will force food producers to source more expensive non-GMO commodities to avoid what the group calls a perceived “warning” label.

“It’s more because of the perception that such a law sends to the consumers. It’s essentially a de facto warning,” said Karen Batra, a BIO spokeswoman, in an interview Monday.

This is a market decision food producers will have to make, despite indifference on the part of many consumers who care more about calories and prices, she said.

National polls indicate that 93 percent of respondents say foods containing genetically engineered ingredients should be labeled. A VTDigger poll shows overwhelming support for GMO labeling in Vermont. The chorus backing Vermont’s bill has been about a consumer’s “right to know” what is in their food.

It’s also unclear whether these food producers will stop selling to Vermont’s 626,000 residents altogether. Opponents of the labeling law say it may cost these companies less to exclude Vermont’s market than to comply.

“That’s just one of these scare tactics that industry folks are trying to build … against a law that is very popular,” Sorrell said of the possibility sale restrictions in Vermont.

He said attorneys general across the country are putting bipartisan support behind Vermont’s law.

“I think this issue of GE food labeling is going to be one that’s going to be enacted in other states going forward,” he said.

He said the Attorney General’s Office will have regulatory rules on the labeling law drafted as soon as late summer. This will include how the label will appear on the food packages. There will be a chance for the public to comment on the regulations, he said.


VT Digger: Shumlin signs landmark GMO labeling law

John Herrick
May. 8 2014
Full Article and Video

Vermont will be the first state in the nation to require food manufacturers to label products containing genetically modified ingredients. It will also likely be the first state to defend the GMO labeling law in court, state officials say.

The fight ahead did not cloud a festive bill-signing on the Statehouse steps Thursday afternoon where more than 100 pro-labeling public health advocates, lawmakers and residents cheered in support of the landmark policy.

“Vermonters have spoken loud and clear: They want to know what’s in their food,” Gov. Peter Shumlin said. “We are pro-choice. We are pro-information. Vermont gets it right with this bill.”

The law requires food manufacturers selling in Vermont to label products containing genetically engineered ingredients starting July 1, 2016. These products can also no longer be labeled “natural” or “naturally made.”

Sen. David Zuckerman, P/D-Chittenden, who has been pushing for the bill for much of his nearly two decades in the Legislature, said Vermont’s law will create a “domino effect” across the nation.

“This is one of the cases where grassroots democracy really did win the day and hopefully we can carry it on into the future,” Zuckerman said.

Most commodity crops sold in the U.S. are genetically engineered to ward off pests and withstand applications of weed-killing herbicides. The majority of processed foods sold in supermarkets contain genetically modified ingredients.

There is no scientific consensus whether genetically modified foods are safe for consumption. But the pro-labeling chorus in Vermont was about consumers’ “right to know” what is in their food.

Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell said lawmakers received letters from multinational companies threatening to challenge the state’s policy in court.

“A lot of times that scares people. But you know what? Not us,” Campbell said. “We are going to do what is right for the people of Vermont and the people of this country. And that’s to make sure that you have the right to know what is in your food.”

The biotechnology industry, which manufactures genetically engineered food products, opposes Vermont’s legislation. Industry representatives prefer a national solution instead and there have been many predictions that they will sue Vermont over the law.

The Vermont Attorney General anticipates defending the law in court, which he estimates could cost $1 million to win and $5 million or more to lose.

“The constitutionality of the GMO labeling law will undoubtedly be challenged,” Sorrell said in a statement.

“I can make no predictions or promises about how the courts will ultimately rule but I can promise that my office will mount a vigorous and zealous defense of the law that has so much support from Vermont consumers,” Sorrell said.

That’s why the bill includes a $1.5 million special fund reserved for defending the state in court. This money would be raised from state appropriations, private donations and surplus settlement proceeds. The state is taking private donations through a newly created donation website, Foodfightfundvt.org.

Paul Burns is executive director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, which organized a grassroots campaign backing the labeling law that gathered more than 32,000 signatures across the state.

“By passing this law with no strings attached, Vermont has sent a message out loud and clear: that no company – no matter how big, no matter how rich, no matter how powerful – can deny you the right to know what’s in your food,” Burns said.

Unlike other states’ GMO labeling policies that would take effect only when neighboring states pass similar policies, Vermont’s law does not have a so-called trigger.

“We aren’t waiting for anybody else … to us it’s OK to stand up and protect our citizens,” Burns said.

But opponents of the bill question whether Vermont has a large enough market to force food manufacturers to label products.

Environmentalists point out that genetically engineered crops allow for the heavy application of weed killers, and U.S. farmers this year are using more herbicides to kill off herbicide-resistant “superweeds.”

Carl Russell chairs the board for Rural Vermont, an agricultural advocacy organization supporting the policy.

“It now gives people the opportunity to not only know what goes in their food, but it also gives them a choice to support the kind of agriculture that they want to see in the state of Vermont,” Russell said.


VPR: GMO Bill Signed, Lawsuit Expected; Shumlin Asks For Help With ‘Food Fight’ Fund

May 8, 2014Full Article and Slideshow

Vermont has become the first state in the nation to require food manufacturers to label products that contain genetically modified ingredients.

At a bill signing ceremony on the steps of the state capital, a few hundred supporters cheered Thursday as Gov. Peter Shumlin signed legislation he says will empower Vermont consumers.

“Vermonters have spoken loud and clear, they want to know what’s in their food,”  Shumlin said. “We are pro-choice. We are pro-information. Vermont gets it right with this bill.”

The majority of the corn, soybeans and canola grown in the United States are genetically engineered, mostly to resist certain pests or herbicides. That means most packaged food sold in this country contains products that were grown with genetic engineering.

Attorney General Bill Sorrell says he doesn’t yet know what the label will look like, but he is sure of one thing: “I’ll be very surprised if we are not sued,” he says, by companies like Monsanto, the world’s largest producer of genetically engineered seeds.

Monsanto hasn’t commented on Vermont’s law yet, but Sorrell says he wouldn’t be surprised if there are constitutional claims, claims that the law would compel speech or claims the law poses a burden on interstate commerce.

Many Vermonters say they’re worried about potential health risks and just want to know what’s in their food.

“There’s no requirement that you have to show that these foods are actually harmful to health in order to require a company to disclose that genetic engineering was used,” says Laura Murphy, who works in the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic at Vermont Law School.

But according to Keith Matthews, that isn’t a valid argument. Matthews is an attorney who often represents private sector clients in environmental and regulatory matters. He thinks the court would require proof that people were harmed by eating food containing GMOs.

Matthews used to work for the Environmental Protection Agency and ran the unit that registers and regulates genetically engineered crops.

“You’ve got three federal agencies that engage in rigorous review of these products and determine that there is no risk, that they don’t cause any adverse effects in the environmental context when they’re being grown,” he says. “Nor do they pose any risk to humans when they’re consumed.”

Debate over the potential risks of genetically engineered food is heated. Most scientists say there’s no evidence of harm in eating foods made with genetic engineering.

But anti-GMO advocates say the long-term effects aren’t yet known. Some countries have taken a more cautious approach, and Vermont seeks to emulate the European Union, where labeling rules have been in place for more than a decade. U.S. law, however, is different.

Without a change to federal regulations, Vermont’s statute is likely to face major challenges. But the state lawmakers who wrote the law say they’re ready for that. The legislation includes a $1.5 million legal fund to help cover costs if the state loses in court.

And at the signing ceremony, Shumlin announced the formation of a legal defense fund, called the Food Fight Fund, and asked people from across the country to contribute.


VT Digger: Glenn Gilchrist: Vermont identified as a hotbed of science denial

May 7, 2014
By Glenn Gilchrist
Full Article

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Glenn Gilchrist, an environmentalist who has worked with both national and grassroots organizations. He is also a nature photographer and freelance writer. His blog is at www.glenngilchrist.com.

Can you imagine a circumstance that would prompt serious journalists with national exposure to equate Vermonters in general and their lawmakers specifically with “climate change skeptics” and “science denying creationists”? Well, Vermonter, it seems that your insistence on being informed about the contents of the food you eat has just relegated you to the scrap heap of scientific ignorance and denial. At least that is how some journalists are telling it.

Our critics, who include writers for Forbes and Discover Magazine, state that the evidence supporting GMO food safety is so convincing that no further debate is required and that GMO skeptics are no more credible than any other science denier. Not only do they discount all arguments that question GMO food safety, they also ignore the many other important and related issues addressed in Vermont H.112.

Trevor Butterworth, writing for Forbes, states in his post “Science Free News Coverage of Vermont GMO Labeling” that reporters should be characterizing Vermont’s legislation as a misrepresentation of scientific expertise. He writes that media coverage of the legislation is biased, and with the exception of a Reuters news article, completely lacks scientific comment by geneticists or biologists.

The Reuters article references a statement made last October by a “Group of 93” international scientists who said there was a lack of empirical and scientific evidence to support false claims by the bio-tech industry about a “consensus” on safety. So while Butterworth is pleased to hear from science, he dismisses this particular group as unqualified.

In other words, Butterworth asserts that Vermont lawmakers ignored, or were ignorant of science when they crafted GMO labeling legislation, and the media as a whole is guilty of the same.

Note however, that Vermont H.112 does not exactly ignore the issue of science as noted here in Section 1 (D):

“… the FDA regulates genetically engineered foods in the same way it regulates foods developed by traditional plant breeding, but, according to Dr. James Maryanski, FDA biotechnology coordinator (1985−2008), the decision to regulate genetically engineered food in this manner was a political decision not based in science” (emphasis added).

Butterworth refers us to an “excellent” discussion of GMO science by Keith Kloor, a distinguished, generally progressive journalist writing on Discovery Magazine’s blog (“GMOs, Journalism and False Balance”) where he characterizes the “Group of 93 “ as a “fringy, science denying group (on the issue of GMO safety, anyway).”

The group, by the way, has grown to 297 scientists and professionals associated with the European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility (ENSSER).

ENSSER responds in “297 scientists and experts agree GMOs not proven safe” with comments by Dr. Sheldon Krimsky of Tufts University that:

“Adverse consequences of GMO crops are not restricted to keeling over dead after eating genetically adulterated unlabeled food (GAUF). My concerns include subtle changes in nutritional quality or mycotoxins, increasing food allergens, unsustainable farming practices, dependency on chemical inputs, lack of transparency in evaluating food quality and safety, and the transformation of farming practices into a modern form of serfdom, where the seed is intellectual property leased by the farmer” (emphasis added).

Note that the ENSSER statement extends the argument well beyond just food safety, as does Vermont in Section 1 (G) of H.112:

“The result is public uncertainty about the nutrition, health, safety, environmental impacts, and the proliferation of genetic engineering technology …”

Butterworth and Kloor discount the opinions of the group because not all of the scientists who signed the statement are geneticists, and because one of them, Gilles-Eric Séralin, authored a study that was subsequently denounced by critics – about which the Economist reported “that the journal’s publisher said there was no evidence of fraud or intentional misrepresentation of the data.”

If we look at the facts, we find that the group of 297 signatories (as of Oct. 31, 2013) may not all be geneticists, but the majority are engaged in some area of science or agriculture. It is safe to assume that most are familiar with the concept of the scientific method and can read a scientific paper beyond the abstract. But the point is moot – focusing on and then discounting the work of one group of scientists does not discount their entire field of study.

The reality is that the scientific literature is rife with examples of animal studies that support GMO product safety. It is also rife with studies that shed doubt on GMO product safety. It is also true that there are far more scientists than the Group of 297 voicing serious concerns. For example, Dr. Don Huber, a leading GMO expert, award-winning, internationally recognized scientist, and professor of plant pathology at Purdue University for the past 35 years, has stated clearly that there are no peer-reviewed scientific papers establishing the safety of GMO crops.

It seems obvious that what we have here does not constitute a consensus, yet Kloor states that by giving these scientists a voice, the media is guilty of “false balance” and has created a “false equivalence.” He compares GMO label proponents with climate change deniers as if the weight of evidence purported by the different sides of these differing subjects was identical.

Butterworth and Kloor suggest we be guided by the statements of medical and scientific institutions, such as the American Medical Association (whose expertise in both nutrition and agriculture is questionable) and the National Academy of Sciences.

While prestigious institutions, one must be cautious about embracing them as The Ultimate Authority and realize that in today’s business climate, even they are capable of commercial bias and mistakes. It is quite dangerous to defer our own conclusions to those of entrenched institutions based on assumed authority, especially when the stakes are this high. It is even more difficult when one considers that over 60 countries, including those of the European Union, have banned or seriously restricted the sale of GMO foods. And more difficult yet when one realizes the complete lack of any human trials.

If this seems a bit harsh one need only recall a time when the AMA and many physicians advised patients that there were no ill effects attributable to smoking tobacco and, in fact, saw a proliferation of advertising such as “More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette!” Furthermore, the pages of The New England Journal of Medicine and The Journal of the American Medical Association hosted and profited from many tobacco advertisements for a very, very long time.

As mentioned above, there are many published animal studies – and some claim to prove the safety of GMO food products. Many authors cite a 2011 study published in Food and Chemical Toxicology titled “Assessment of the health impact of GM plant diets in long-term and multigenerational animal feeding trials: A literature review,” for example. The lead author was Chelsea Snell, a student at the University of Nottingham at the time of the study. Full text here.

The authors examined “12 long-term studies (of more than 90 days, up to 2 years in duration) and 12 multigenerational studies (from 2 to 5 generations)” and concluded that “Results from all the 24 studies do not suggest any health hazards and, in general, there were no statistically significant differences within parameters observed.”

Snell et al. summarized each of the 24 animal studies they reviewed, included the original researchers’ main findings and interpretations, and then added their own opinions about how the study designs may have affected the validity of the findings.

Of the 24 studies they reviewed, many reported differences between animals fed GMO foods compared to controls who ate non-GMO varieties. Differences such as elevated metabolic rates and changes in pancreatic, liver and other organ function were common.

Snell et al. respond by reporting experimental design problems with each of the studies that showed differences between GMO and non-GMO fed animals and even with studies that showed no difference between GMO and non-GMO groups. This would suggest the possibility that current (or their chosen) research models are weak and that more and better research need be done. Instead Snell et al. suggest that their review somehow proves the safety of GMO foods. Once again, what we have here can hardly be considered a consensus.

Furthermore, the studies described in the review span only 90 days to two years, were conducted mostly on rats and mice, and do not dispute the position stated in Vermont H.112 Section 1 G that: “There have been no long-term studies in the United States that examine the safety of human consumption of genetically engineered foods.”

On the contrary their findings do support the concerns of Vermonter’s expressed in Section 1B:

“(A) Independent studies in laboratory animals indicate that the ingestion of genetically engineered foods may lead to health problems such as gastrointestinal damage, liver and kidney damage, reproductive problems, immune system interference, and allergic responses.”

Butterworth diminishes and derides the Vermont legislation and subsequent media attention by reducing the issue simply to our desire to be seen as fighting “a battle between brave, concerned citizens and bad big business.”

Yet we know that much of the research done on GMO safety is funded directly or indirectly by agribusinesses who have a vested interest in the outcomes. We know that trade organizations such as the Grocery Manufacturers Association have spent millions of dollars combating state and federal GMO labeling laws and indoctrinating the public with the idea that GMO labeling will create an undue hardship on businesses. That changing labels will cost millions of dollars – costs that will be passed on to consumers. Give it some time, and we’ll even hear that labeling will cost jobs!

Another possible interpretation is that agribusiness stakeholders are worried that once products are labeled as containing GMOs, people may choose not to buy them. Because really, are label changes on consumer products all that uncommon? And expensive? Of course not. But allowing GMO products to be put at a competitive disadvantage by simply telling us what they are – that is just unacceptable to their business interests. So labels be damned.

This, like most debates, is ultimately a question of values; values relevant not just to foods, but to many areas, such as pharmaceuticals, toxic effects of resource extraction and so many more.

Do we ingest (or otherwise consume) things until they are proven dangerous, or do we avoid those things we perceive to be dangerous until it is proven that they are safe.

… and …

In matters of health and nutrition (to name just a few), do we have the right to know?


The Complete Patient: Why the Food Oligarchs Hate GMO Labeling

by: David Gumpert
04/24/2014
Full Post

Don’t underestimate the importance of Vermont’s passage of a GMO-labeling law. 

Tiny Vermont (population 626,000) is the first of what will likely be a number of states to confront America’s food oligarchy and try to force these cartels to actually do something their customers want. How will the oligarchs respond? 

Almost certainly not the way they should, which would be to adjust their food labels to include information about which ingredients are genetically modified. More likely, they will respond with legal maneuvering, possibly including a suit against Vermont, and heavy lobbying of their political pals in Washington to put a hold on the Vermont law, which is due to go into effect July 1, 2016, more than two years out. 

The oligarchs have been dodging and weaving like crazy to avoid having to disclose their heavy use of genetically-modified ingredients, for fear of losing business to foods without the stuff that makes people nervous (and likely sick). They spent heavily to defeat citizen initiatives requiring labeling in California and Washington in 2012 and 2013. Several states that passed labeling laws, like Maine and Connecticut, made them contingent on neighboring states passing them. 

The oligarchs say the GMO labeling requirement is too cumbersome, too costly, etc., etc. They say that, all while Coca Cola, one of the oligarchs, in a recent legal case maintained its Minute Maid subsidiary should be allowed to continue deceptive labeling that enables it to call its apple-grape juice (99 per cent of the ingredients) a “Pomegranate blueberry blend” to “support brain and body,” even though those ingredients are less than one per cent. (The fact that “support brain and body” is a health claim gets completely ignored in the legal arguments.)

We see the same behavior in the dairy arena, where the cartel stands in the way of any American research into the health benefits of raw milk, and opposes in states around the country any expansion of access to raw milk. The idea is to force-feed people the processed stuff, much the same as the idea is to force-feed Americans GMO-tainted food. 

Aside: why do I call these corporations and their executives “oligarchs”? Because much of our food system is controlled by a few large corporations. One example of this expanding oligopoly control is in America’s huge meat industry.  Here is how journalist Christopher Leonard describes the producers of chicken, pork, and beef in a new book, The Meat Racket: “Just a handful of companies produce nearly all the meat consumed in the United States…..a powerful oligarchy of corporations that determines how animals are raised, how much farmers get paid, and how meat is processed, all while reaping massive profits and remaining almost opaque to the consumer.” 

(The companies are Smithfield, Tyson Foods, JBS, and Cargill.) 

Our media have fun with the notion of the Russian “oligarchs” who run that country, but have difficulty coming to grips with the reality that the U.S. is run similarly. 

Bottom line, the food oligarchy is afraid of the competition inherent in the labeling requirement, just as they are afraid of the competition inherent in widening access to raw milk. These corporations know that consumers will avoid products with GMO ingredients. The corporations will be forced to lower prices, and squeeze their profit margins, to convince people to buy these genetically altered products.

Oligarchs don’t compete. They beat up the competition, ignore their customers, anything to avoid being honest and forthright. Congrats to Vermont’s politicians for deciding to part company with the oligarchs. 


Huffington Post: Vermont Stands on the Cusp of History With Right-to-Know GE Labeling Law

By Andrew Kimbrell
04/24/2014
Governor Expected to Sign First No-Strings-Attached Law to Require Labeling for Foods produced with Genetic Engineering (GE)
Full Article

Vermont is on the cusp of history after the legislature just passed the nation’s first no-strings-attached bill to require labeling for foods produced with genetic engineering (GE). It now heads to Governor Shumlin, who is expected to sign the bill. The law would go into effect July 1, 2016.

This is a historic day for the people’s right to know. Vermont is leading the country and opening the door for a mandatory national labeling program. We congratulate the Vermont activists and the legislatures who have fought long and hard for this historic day.

Many national groups helped in this important victory. The Center for Food Safety helped draft the legislation in consultation with state representatives, and provided legal testimony before the Vermont Legislature. CFS has maintained an active presence in the state, providing resources and expert legal and scientific advice to the citizens and lawmakers of Vermont.

According to The New York Times, 93 percent of Americans want GE foods to be labeled. Consumers want this information, but giant chemical corporations have spent tens of millions of dollars on misleading campaigns to keep consumers in the dark. Now, thanks to Vermont, the people will start learning the extent of the chemical companies’ involvement in our food production.

It is now very clear that federal labeling of GE foods is going to happen in the foreseeable future. Should the industry try to challenge the law in the courts, the CFS legal team will be there to help defend it and we are confident that it would survive any such challenge.

Vermont is leading the way, but they are not alone. States like California, Oregon, Hawaii, Connecticut, and Maine are following. This year, legislatures in 30 states across the country will consider GE labeling laws. They are following the 64 nations, including the European Union, Russia, China, and Brazil, which require labeling.

Monsanto and pals can see the writing on the wall. The American people are willing to fight for our right to know what is in our food. The agrichemical industry can’t win in the states so they will try to steal away our right to know at the national level. They have already gone to Congress and picked Koch brothers-backed Mike Pompeo (R-KS) to champion legislation which would deny states right to pass locally appropriate laws. CFS will fight them every step of the way.

On the side of consumer rights, Representative Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) recently introduced federal legislation that would require nationwide labeling of GE products. That bill has 65 cosponsors and the support of the food movement across the country. A million and a half people endorsed a 2011 legal petition filed by the Center for Food Safety with FDA which created a blueprint for a federal labeling of genetically engineered foods.


Washington Post: How Vermont plans to defend the nation’s first GMO law

By Niraj Chokshi
April 29
Full Article

Expect two things to happen now that Vermont’s legislature has passed H.112.

Any day now, Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) is expected to make history by signing that bill into law as he has suggested, making his the first state to require genetically modified food to be labeled as such. Then, maybe not too long after that, expect the state to be sued over it.

There’s no guarantee of legal action, but legislators, officials and advocates are preparing for it. Earlier this month, state Attorney General Bill Sorrell told Vermont Public Radio that he would be “very surprised” if the state isn’t sued over the law. And officials were so sure of a challenge that the measure itself creates a $1.5 million legal defense fund, to be paid for with settlements won by the state. They think it’s coming, but they also say they’re ready.

“The threat of a lawsuit worked for a while, but now it doesn’t work anymore,” says Ronnie Cummins, national director of the Organic Consumers Association, whose organization has for years worked with activists and lawmakers in Vermont on the issue. “I think they may go ahead and sue and do it rather quickly in the hopes that it may gather momentum,” he added, referring to biotech industry groups.

Other states have pursued similar measures, but Vermont’s law will be the first of its kind. Connecticut and Maine passed labeling requirements, but with trigger clauses requiring multiple other states to pass labeling requirements before their own go into effect. At least 25 states have considered such legislation, according to a Monday report on labeling requirements from the nonprofit Council for Agricultural Science and Technology. And advocates are hopeful they will get a measure on the Oregon ballot this year.

Industry groups argue that such laws are costly and bad for consumers.

Proponents argue that the science behind genetically modified food is far from conclusive and ask why consumers should take risks without knowing what they’re eating. If companies truly stand behind the safety of GMO foods, they shouldn’t worry about having to identify them, advocates for labeling argue.

Whatever the wisdom of labeling policies, though, Vermont is set to move forward with its requirement. Cummins and others are relatively calm about the prospect of lawsuits, though, because they’re prepared. Advocates expect industry will challenge the law on three constitutional grounds, none of which they expect to be successful (of course). Here’s how the food industry may fight back and why labeling proponents think they can win, according to their legal analyses.
1. The First Amendment argument

The first argument that industry is expected to make in challenging Vermont’s GMO law is that it violates commercial free speech rights under the First Amendment. (Businesses have limited free speech protections based on the benefit of free-flowing information to an open society.) The Supreme Court has established two tests for reviewing whether such rights have been violated, according to two legal analyses of Vermont’s law.

Under one test — from Zauderer v. Office of Disciplinary Counsel of the Supreme Court of Ohio — the U.S. Supreme Court found that requiring commercial speech is considered constitutional if the required speech conveys “purely factual information in support of a legitimate government interest,” according to a memo from Emord & Associates, a food and drug law firm. In other words, government can require businesses to make factual statements if it’s in the service of the public good in some way.

The other First Amendment test revolves around whether a state can restrict commercial speech. It stems from New York’s attempt, in the interest of conserving energy, to ban utilities from promoting use of electricity. The Supreme Court overturned the ban, challenged by Central Hudson Gas & Electric.

In so doing, the court set up a four-part test, according to another memo from the Vermont Law School’s Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic, which represents the Vermont Public Interest Research Group. A limit on commercial speech must meet four requirements, the court found:

First, the court has to decide that the speech is protected, meaning it must be about legal activity and not be misleading.
Second, the government has to claim a substantial interest in limiting the speech.
Third, the policy in question has to “directly advance” that interest.
Fourth, that policy must not overreach in achieving its goal.

Both legal memos and labeling advocates come to the same conclusion: a labeling law will likely pass either test.
2. Does federal law trump state law?

Another argument that proponents of GMO labeling expect to hear is that Vermont’s new law stomps on territory covered by the federal government. There are three conditions under which federal law trumps state law, a process known as preemption, according to the Law Clinic memo. They are known as express preemption, field preemption and conflict preemption.

Express preemption is when Congress explicitly says a federal law trumps state laws. Both memos conclude that it has not done so with such labeling requirements, which don’t explicitly govern genetically modified foods.

A conflict preemption exists when it’s impossible to comply with both federal and state law. Again, federal regulations don’t touch on the use of “genetically enginereed,” “natural” or similar terms, so it’s possible for a business or individual to comply with federal and state labeling requirements, both memos find.

Finally, federal law trumps state law when it’s clear that the federal interest in a field is so great that it’s assumed to be the one in charge. In that instance, “congressional intent to supersede state laws must be ‘clear and manifest,’” which neither memo finds it is.
In this April 16, 2014 photo, a tassel of corn grows in a field on Pioneer Hi-Bred International land in Waialua, Hawaii. The nation’s leading corn seed companies have farms in Hawaii, but their fields have become a flash point in a spreading debate over genetic engineering in agriculture.

3. Does it interfere with interstate commerce?

The third challenge labeling proponents expect to hear is that the GMO law unconstitutionally interferes with interstate commerce. While the Constitution’s Commerce Clause grants Congress the authority to regulate interstate commerce, it is also understood to implicitly limit state powers to do the same.

The Supreme Court has in the past applied two tests in assessing whether a policy violates the clause.

The first is whether a law discriminates against interstate commerce — in other words, does it explicitly favor commerce within the state over commerce between states. Vermont’s GMO law treats Vermont companies the same as companies based in other states, so advocates are confident it would survive that first test.

The second test would ensure that any burden on interstate commerce — e.g. increased costs of labeling GMO foods — are fairly balanced with the local benefits the law provides, such as protecting public health and the environment. Again, advocates conclude the law is balanced.


USA Today: Vt. gov says he’ll sign genetically modified food label bill

Terri Hallenbeck, The Burlington (Vt.) Free Press
April 24, 2014
Full Article

MONTPELIER, Vt. — Vermont is expected to become the first state in the nation to require labeling of foods that contain genetically modified organisms.

On Wednesday, the state House passed a bill, 114-30, that would require the labeling by July 1, 2016. The next step is Gov. Peter Shumlin, who has said he will sign the legislation.

“Our constituents have spoken,” said Rep. Carolyn Partridge, a Democrat from Windham, Vt., and House Agriculture Committee chairwoman. “They feel it’s important to know what’s in their food.” said House Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Partridge, D-Windham.

Genetically modified organisms are plants and animals whose cells have been inserted with a gene from an unrelated species to give them specific characteristics, such as resistance to insects or increase specific nutrients. Genetically engineered plants have been in the food supply since the 1990s, and supporters of the labeling requirement have been fighting since for regulations to notify consumers of their presence.

Food manufacturers say 70% to 80% of packaged food on a typical supermarket’s shelves would need to be labeled. The bill grants the Vermont Attorney General’s Office the job of establishing rules surrounding the labels.

Supporters have said they hope Vermont will lead the way for similar laws across the USA.

“Vermont’s always first,” said Will Allen, an organic farmer from Fairlee, Vt., citing the state’s ban on slavery, passage of civil unions and same-sex marriage as other firsts.

GMO labeling is required in 64 countries, including the European Union, but no U.S. states. Connecticut and Maine have passed labeling laws that would go into effect only when a collection of neighboring states passes similar laws. Vermont lawmakers rejected that route.

Legislation in Vermont seeking to halt the use of genetically modified seeds, to establish a labeling requirement for those seeds and the food they produce and to protect farmers from liability related to GMO seeds dates back more than a decade.

The state anticipates legal trouble. Included in the bill is establishment of a fund of up to $1.5 million to help pay for the state’s defense against a lawsuit. People will be able to contribute voluntarily and any money the state attorney general wins in other court settlements can be added.

“I think this is the right thing to do whether we’re being threatened with a lawsuit or not,” said Rep. Mike Mrowicki, a Democrat from Putney, Vt.

Rep. Anne Donahue, a Republican from Northfield, Vt., said the threat of a lawsuit gave her pause but that her constituents seem to support that risk. She voted for the bill.

About Vermont’s GMO labeling bill

• What the bill does: Requires food manufacturers to label many products containing genetically modified organisms that are sold in Vermont starting July 1, 2016. Meat, dairy, liquor and prepared food sold in restaurants are exempt from labeling.

What the label will say: The bill offers three options for wording: “partially produced with genetic engineering,” “may be produced with genetic engineering,” or “produced with genetic engineering.”

How long this bill has been in the works: House 112 was introduced in the Vermont House in January 2013 and passed the House on May 10, 99-42, just before the state Legislature adjourned for the year. The bill was introduced Jan. 7 in the Vermont Senate when the Legislature reconvened. The Senate Agriculture and Judiciary committees reworked the bill. The revised version passed the Senate on April 16, 28-2. The House concurred with the Senate’s changes with Wednesday’s 114-30 vote. The bill goes to Gov. Peter Shumlin to be signed into law sometime in the next week or so.

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Burlington Free Press: How GMO labeling came to pass in Vermont

By Terri Hallenbeck
April 27, 2014
Full Article

Sen. Bobby Starr gives little thought to whether there are any genetically modified organisms in the food he eats. The retired Northeast Kingdom truck driver rarely is swayed when organizations blitz legislators about a cause. As chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, he came to the Statehouse in January dubious of a bill that would require labeling of foods that contain GMOs.

But by mid-February, Starr’s committee had voted out a bill, and he was a supporter. That bill is on the way to the Governor’s Office to become law, moving Vermont in place to become the first state to require labeling.

Along the way, Starr and his fellow legislators were bombarded with phone calls, emails and postcards urging them to pass the bill. Veteran lawmakers from Derby to Bennington, Georgia to Brattleboro who typically are unimpressed by the deluge of rote form letters they receive for various causes found that these messages came from real people they knew in their communities.

“What it came down to is, the people I represent wanted it,” said Starr, a Democrat who represents relatively conservative Essex and Orleans counties. “In the end I said, ‘Well, individual rights are more important than an industry’s rights.’”

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Sears, a Democrat from also relatively conservative Bennington, said he was driving down a back road near his house when he saw a sign calling for GMO labeling. “I said, ‘Boy this is real. They want this.’”

Despite the threat of a lawsuit hanging over their heads from food manufacturers, key lawmakers went from skeptical to sold on a labeling law within months because a well-organized, well-funded and seasoned group of supporters launched one of the biggest grassroots efforts the state has seen.

How’d they do it?

A combination of factors came together to take the labeling bill to the finish line, said Dave Rogers, policy director at the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont, who was among those working for the bill. Luck helped, he said, but so did an unrelenting group effort, extensive use of social media that has changed the speed with which causes spread, and Vermont’s two decades of experience in resisting the use of genetic engineering in agriculture.

“We have like a 20-year history of working on these issues,” Rogers said. “We have a whole population of educated activists.”

A 2012 Statehouse public hearing about the GMO labeling issue offered a hint of what was to come. Some 300 people crowded into the House chamber. All of those testifying spoke in favor of labeling. The fervor brewing that night had been steeping for more than a decade.

Opposition to GMOs in Vermont dates back to the earliest days of the process, which began producing crops in the 1990s. In 2003, 37 Vermont towns passed resolutions at town meeting that demanded the labeling of genetically modified foods.

The next year, lawmakers passed a first-in the-nation bill requiring that GMO seeds be labeled — a law that apparently has never been enforced. Amy Shollenberger, a lobbyist hired by the Vermont Right to Know Coalition who has been working on GMO issues for more than a decade, noted that the 2004 bill passed the Legislature 10 years to the day from when the Senate took its vote this month on the food-labeling bill.

In 2006, Gov. Jim Douglas vetoed a bill that would have made seed manufacturers liable for damages from genetically modified seeds that drift onto organic farms.

Although little came from some of those efforts, the sentiment behind them never died.

After labeling legislation failed to move in 2011, Will Allen, manager of Cedar Circle Farm and Education Center in Thetford, said he realized Vermont needed a more refined bill similar to those that were then in the works in California and Washington. In 2012, he pulled together four groups to form the Vermont Right to Know Coalition to work on passing a labeling bill.

Those groups — Cedar Circle Farm, NOFA, Vermont Public Interest Research Group and Rural Vermont — have stuck together for three years. Unlike many such coalitions, Allen said, this one worked.

“It’s not that we didn’t have disagreements,” Allen said, but, “I think everybody believed we could do it.”

Rep. Kate Webb, a Shelburne Democrat, introduced a new labeling bill in 2012, already well into the second year of a biennium. The bill had no chance of passing the Legislature, but supporters were undaunted. “All we’re doing is seeing if this thing flies,” Allen said of the late-session strategy.

That bill started taking flight a year later. Allen’s coalition had a lot to do with getting the measure off the ground.

With help from friends

All the members of the Vermont Right to Know Coalition had experience on the issue. Each had extensive and varied membership lists that provided names of potential supporters across Vermont. They had money, too, thanks in part to national organizations that saw Vermont as a foothold for the GMO-labeling movement across the country.

Allen said the coalition took in $750,000 to $1 million, about half from in-state and half from outside supporters, which included Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, the Organic Consumers’ Fund and Mercola Corp.

That money helped pay for newspaper advertisements across Vermont and for legal and scientific expertise to help persuade Vermont lawmakers. Those efforts largely were behind-the-scenes. Vermont advocates discouraged national groups from swooping in with the kind of media blitz often used in other states, said Sen. David Zuckerman, P/D-Chittenden.

“We told the national groups not to do TV ads, that it would backfire,” he said.

Those national groups might be back to help with the cause if Vermont is sued regarding the labeling law.

Jean Halloran, director of Food Policy Initiatives at Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, said in a statement after the House voted last week to send the bill to the governor, “If Vermont is sued, we intend to use all the resources at our disposal to support Vermont in its groundbreaking effort.”

Targeting messages

Meanwhile, another member of the coalition, VPIRG, launched the organization’s biggest summer campaign ever last year, sending teams of young activists to knock on doors in every Vermont town and to sign people up as supporters of GMO labeling, Executive Director Paul Burns said. He estimated VPIRG spent $500,000 this year and last year on GMO-labeling efforts.

VPIRG’s summer campaign came right after the 2013 legislative session, when the House passed a GMO labeling bill in the final hours, leaving the measure pending for the Senate when lawmakers returned in January. Burns knew his crew could focus efforts on winning over just 30 senators, zeroing in particularly on key players such as Starr and Sears, chairmen of two committees that would consider the measure.

“The opportunity for impact was particularly great,” Burns said. With experience lobbying in the Statehouse on other matters over the years, Burns’ organization also knew the personalities of senators. In trying to reach Sears, Burns said, “We knew he responded to a high level of contact. We tried to get him personal letters, phone calls.”

The door-knockers collected 30,000 signatures from those who agreed that people should know what is in their food, Burns said. Those names went into a database of supporters who could be called on later. VPIRG carefully sorted postcards from Vermonters urging support for the bill and sent the cards to the corresponding legislators.

All the cards, phone calls and emails had an impact, because many of the people behind them were constituents whom legislators knew and who were genuinely enthusiastic for GMO labeling. Sen. John Rodgers, D-Essex/Orleans, said, “A bunch of people I know signed onto it. It is important to real constituents.”

By March of this year, two separate polls indicated that Vermonters are keen on GMO labeling. A Castleton Polling Institute poll conducted for VTDigger.org last month showed 79 percent of respondents support a labeling law.

A Center for Rural Studies at the University of Vermont poll conducted at about the same time showed 90 percent supported the labeling of GMO foods, and 80 percent supported a law requiring labeling, said center Director Dr. Jane Kolodinsky. She said she was confident the poll asked the questions as neutrally as possible, though she acknowledged the term “genetically modified” has a negative sound to it.

Legal advice

In the labeling bill that’s headed to the governor’s desk, legislators cited the conflicting studies as a reason to offer consumer labels.

“There is a lack of consensus regarding the validity of the research and science surrounding the safety of genetically engineered foods, as indicated by the fact that there are peer-reviewed studies published in international scientific literature showing negative, neutral, and positive health results,” the bill states.

Lawmakers were provided information about some of that conflicting research by a team from Vermont Law School’s Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic, which worked pro bono for VPIRG. Legal advice from the center and others helped bolster legislators’ confidence that a lawsuit might be winnable, said Sears, the Judiciary Committee chairman.

“We shared our conclusion that we think this bill is constitutional,” said Laura Murphy, the clinic’s associate director and an assistant professor at the law school. Law students working under her guidance pointed to court decisions where labeling laws, such as New York City’s calorie label requirement, were upheld.

That allowed Sears and others to have greater faith that perhaps Vermont’s GMO-labeling bill would have a better fate than the state’s law that required milk containing bovine growth hormones to be labeled. That law was ruled unconstitutional in 1996.

Sears said he went into the debate supportive of labeling but wanting protection from a lawsuit. “Getting over that hurdle was difficult for me,” Sears said.

Andrea Stander, executive director of Rural Vermont, said when supporters met with Sears in December, he wanted a labeling bill to include a trigger, by which the law would take effect only if other states passed similar laws. Connecticut and Maine have laws with such triggers, and it was something Vermont advocates opposed as close to meaningless.

“He was absolutely adamant about a multi-state trigger,” Stander said of Sears. “He’s an example of a person who has moved on this. He began to understand that the grounds of the bill are strong.”

The Vermont Right to Know coalition also hired Emord and Associates, a Washington law firm, to evaluate the bill, giving legislators another measure of confidence that it might survive legal challenge. “It had an impact,” Allen said.

Opposition quiet

Opponents of labeling, meanwhile, were uncharacteristically quiet throughout the legislative debate. Food manufacturers and the biotechnology industry testified against the bill but never mounted the same kind of sizable lobbying and advertising effort they did to kill a similar effort in New Hampshire, or to defeat public votes in California and Washington.

“We weren’t able to get traction,” said Karen Batra, communications director for the Biotechnology Industry Organization, which instead supports pending federal legislation that would require labeling of GMO foods nationally if the FDA determines there is a health or safety risk. “We had the numbers against us in the Legislature. It was a priority with Democrats.”

The mild tone of the opposition surprised proponents of the bill. “One theory out there is they want to fight it in court. It’s been a mystery. I’m sure there’s a strategy to it,” said Shollenberger, the Montpelier lobbyist who was hired by the coalition this year to help with the campaign.

Batra said she was unable to comment about whether her organization or its members would sue Vermont regarding the law. Laggis, the organization’s Vermont lobbyist, said she expects any lawsuit would come from the food producers rather than from the biotechnology industry.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association responded to a request for comment with a statement, which said in part, “As we continue to evaluate the impacts of HB 112, we will make a determination about whether litigation is the appropriate response to this misguided legislation.”

The association argued that genetically modified crops use less water and fewer pesticides and reduce crop prices by 15-30 percent. “Consumers who prefer to avoid GM ingredients have the option to choose from an array of products already in the marketplace labeled ‘certified organic.’ The government therefore has no compelling interest in warning consumers about foods containing GM ingredients, making HB 112′s legality suspect at best,” the grocers group said in the statement

The legislation has critics in Vermont’s food network, too. Kim Crosby, owner of Vermont Roots, a specialty food producer based in Rutland, said of the labeling bill, “I’m very sad it passed. I really feel they did not do the research.”

Crosby said she believes activists too easily influenced people into thinking that labeling is needed. “I’m still flabbergasted. I can’t believe they got that influence,” she said.

Crosby said the law will create uncertainty for her and for other food producers as they wait to see what the Attorney General’s Office decides on the details of what has to be labeled and how they have to go about proving whether a product is GMO-free. She’s wondering whether she has to prove that products that contain no soy, corn, canola or rape seed — the ingredients commonly containing GMOs — are GMO-free.

“There’s just so many questions surrounding this,” Crosby said. “This could affect a lot of products.”

Contact Terri Hallenbeck at 999-9994 or thallenbeck@freepressmedia.com.

GMO labeling details

Gov. Peter Shumlin is expected to sign a bill as early as this week that could make the state the first to require food manufacturers to label products that contain genetically modified organisms. Here’s a look at some of the details:

• What are GMOs: Genetically modified organisms are plants and animals whose cells have been inserted with a gene from an unrelated species in order to take on specific characteristics, such as resistance to insects or an increase in specific nutrients. Food from genetically engineered plants has been in the food supply since the 1990s.

• Foods commonly containing GMOs: According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 94 percent of cotton, 93 percent of soybeans and 88 percent of corn planted in the U.S. are genetically modified. Those are commonly found in foods such as soups, sauces, mayonnaise, salad dressings, cereals, breads and snack foods. Certified organic products are not allowed to contain GMOs.

• When labeling would start in Vermont: July 1, 2016, after the Attorney General’s Office finalizes specifics.

• How labels would be worded: The bill offers three wording options subject to modifcations by the Attorney General’s Office: “partially produced with genetic engineering,” “may be produced with genetic engineering,” or “produced with genetic engineering.” Supporters say Vermont’s label would be unlike those in the European Union, which are included in the list of ingredients, because in the U.S. the nutrition label is under federal guidelines.

• Exemptions: Food served in restaurants, liquor, meat and dairy products would be exempt from labeling. Meat is regulated by the federal government. Authors of the bill argue that dairy products made from animals that eat genetically modified food are not themselves genetically modified. Liquor is not considered food. Restaurants are exempt because authors of the bill said they were focusing on foods where consumers routinely see labels.

• Use of the word “natural:” No foods sold in Vermont after July 2016 that contain GMOs may be labeled natural.

• Possibility of a lawsuit: Attorney General Bill Sorrell has said Vermont is likely to be sued by food manufacturers if the state becomes the first to require labeling. If the state loses, he estimated the cost at $5 million to $8 million. The bill establishes a fund to which people may voluntarily contribute and which will receive money the state receives from other legal settlements that are not otherwise directed in the state budget, but would otherwise be funded by the state budget.

• Elsewhere: 64 countries, including the European Union, Australia, Japan and China, require labeling of GMO foods. No other U.S. states do. Connecticut passed a law in 2013 that would require labeling if at least four neighboring states with a combined population of 20 million pass similar laws. Maine passed a labeling law this year that would require labeling once five neighboring states, including New Hampshire, pass similar laws.