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!”