Full list: GMO News

WPTZ: People speak out about GMOs

Second public hearing was held Wednesday
By Robyn Estabrook
Feb 05, 2015
Full Article & Video

MONTPELIER, Vt. —Consumers and members of pro-labeling groups gathered to testify at Wednesday’s public hearing on GMO labeling.

Andrea Stander, with Rural Vermont, thanked Attorney General Bill Sorrell for the way the public process was conducted.

“We appreciate the effort, we appreciate the work that the AG’s office has done both to develop the rule, but also to engage the public.  This is has been a public process from the very beginning,” Stander said.

Stander says things may have gone differently if people didn’t know what was going on.
“This law wouldn’t even exist if it weren’t for the fact that so many people across Vermont felt that this was an important opportunity for them to know more about where their food comes from and how it is produced,” Stander said.

The proposed rules tell food manufacturers how big the lettering must be on the box, disclosing that the food is produced with genetic engineering. And that could impact thousands of food items shoppers see on the supermarket shelves.

Jennifer Schomp, of Bethel, Vermont, spoke out at the hearing saying the rules need to go more in depth.

“I would say the biggest feedback I get from people discussing the content of the rule and in particularly the exemptions, right now is the rule hasn’t gone far enough to address processed materials, animal feeds, enzymes that are used to process materials,” Schomp said.

“Due to my work and the non GMO labeling that I do, I can certainly attest to the demand of GMO and non GMO labeled foods,”Schomp said.

The deadline for written comments about this issue is Feb. 12.

Capital Press: USDA cannot restrict GMO pine

Mateusz Perkowski

Full Article

A pine tree genetically engineered for greater wood density can be grown without restrictions after the USDA decided it lacks authority to regulate the variety.

The finding has alarmed critics of genetically modified organisms who fear the new cultivar will cross-pollinate with trees in the wild, resulting in unknown consequences for forests.

ArborGen, a tree seedling producer, altered the loblolly pine variety with a “gene gun,” inserting genetic material from the Monterey pine, the American sweetgum tree, mouse ear cress and E. coli bacteria.

None of these organisms are plant pest risks, so the USDA has determined the pine is not a regulated article and can be freely cultivated without undergoing environmental studies, unlike crops that rely on plant pathogens for their transformation.

Higher density in wood is generally associated with strength and durability in lumber as well as higher energy content for biomass uses, said Steven Strauss, a forest biotechnology professor at Oregon State University.

Biotech cultivars that rely on plant pests for gene transfer often undergo lengthy government scrutiny before they’re brought to market, he said.

“The regulatory process is highly political. It’s not just based on science,” Strauss said.

For this reason, companies are seeking alternate ways of commercializing genetically engineered crops, he said. “That’s understandable from the commercial point of view.”

Arborgen, for example, has tried to gain USDA’s approval since 2008 for a freeze-tolerant eucalyptus tree, which was transformed with a soil pathogen and thus must receive the agency’s permission for widespread commercialization.

Environmental groups filed a lawsuit to block the company from field testing the trees, but that request was denied by a federal judge.

Even so, Arborgen was asked to submit additional data about the biotech tree in 2011 and the variety remains regulated while the USDA conducts an in-depth environmental review.

Critics of genetically modified organisms such as the Center for Food Safety worry that Arborgen was able to circumvent field trial permits and other regulatory procedures with its loblolly pine cultivar.

The group claims it’s unprecedented for USDA to allow a genetically engineered tree to be cultivated without any government oversight.

“This is a genetically engineered organism that is going completely unregulated,” said Martha Crouch, biotechnology consultant for the organization.

Strauss, of OSU, said he would like to see more “nimble” regulations governing biotech crops but is nervous about USDA’s lack of authority over GMOs produced without plant pests.

While the USDA may not consider such crops to be regulated articles, other countries may disagree — creating the potential for “chaos in the marketplace,” he said.

The Center for Food Safety is concerned about potential environmental impacts, alleging that changes in wood density could affect decomposition rates and forest species.

Because the USDA decided it lacks regulatory authority over the tree, the agency only considered the method of transformation without assessing any other potential risks that it might pose, said Crouch.

The Des Moines Register: Global GMO plantings hit a record in 2014, led by US

Christopher Doering
January 28, 2015
Full Article

Biotech crops were grown on a record 448 million acres in 2014, a group that promotes the use of these crops reports Wednesday.

The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications said genetically modified seeds, which contain DNA that’s been modified to express a trait such as resistance to a pest, an environmental condition or a chemical, were grown by 28 countries last year. The 448 million acres planted worldwide in 2014 was up 15 million acres from the previous year.

The United States continued to lead production with 180.6 million acres of biotech crops, an increase of about 7.6 million acres, or 4 percent, from 2013. In the United States, biotech crops are used for corn, cotton, sugar beet, squash and other crops.

“The (acreage) of biotech crops grown in 1996 to 2014 equals, roughly, 80 percent more than the total land mass of China,” said Clive James, ISAAA founder and author of the report. “Global (acreage) has increased more than 100-fold since the first plantings of biotech crops.”

The technology was commercially introduced in the United States in 1996 with the launch of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready soybeans, a plant that tolerates the company’s Roundup herbicide while nearby weeds are killed.

About 90 percent of all corn, soybeans and cotton grown in the United States is produced from genetically modified seed.

Times Argus: Sorrell confident on GMO lawsuit

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MONTPELIER — Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell said Wednesday that he expects a judge to rule on dueling motions in the GMO labeling case within the next three months, which will help lay out a path for the rest of the case.

A host of food industry groups sued the state last year over its GMO labeling law, set to take effect July 1, 2016. Sorrell briefed the Senate Agriculture Committee on the status of the case Wednesday.

The plaintiffs have asked the judge for a summary judgment, claiming the state is restricting their free speech rights by forcing them to label products that contain genetically modified organisms. They also claim the state cannot prevent them from calling a product natural if it contains GMOs.

The state has filed a motion for dismissal of the lawsuit. Oral arguments have already been heard, and Sorrell said the state “attacked each count of the plaintiffs’ complaint.”

In some cases, restricting the right to speech can be unconstitutional, according to Sorrell.

“In First Amendment free speech arena, there’s the freedom to speak or the freedom to remain silent. So, restricting speech can be a violation of free speech rights,” he said.

Under the GMO labeling law, the state is compelling food manufacturers to say when products have GMO ingredients. “They’re objecting, saying, ‘You are forcing us to speak on labels and we don’t want to,’” Sorrell said.

In this case, Sorrell said, courts have found such compelled speech to be constitutional in similar cases.

“On the compelled speech issue we suggest that there are legitimate governmental concerns about environmental issues and public health issues as it relates to genetically engineered products, and legitimate governmental interest to accommodate religious considerations for a segment of the population,” he said.

The state’s motion to dismiss cited a case from an appeals court in Washington, D.C., one step below the U.S. Supreme Court, in which the appeals court ruled that meat must be labeled with the country of origin. The court applied a lenient standard for the government to overcome, according to Sorrell.

“We should win on the compelled speech piece,” he said.

And, unlike with products that contain alcohol or tobacco and require health warnings, the law requires facts to be disclosed, much as on nutrition labels.

“Unlike those kinds of warnings, what our statute requires are simply factual assertions without sort of the taint or flavor, if you will, of saying, ‘Caution, these are hazardous to your health,’” Sorrell said. “These are akin to the … kinds of disclosures that you typically see on products for calories, fat content, salt and sugar and the like. The standard to which we should be held shouldn’t be a higher standard because it is just a factual assertion as opposed to a warning.”

Sorrell said he is also confident in the state’s argument for prohibiting the use of the term “natural” for GMO products.

“ T h e r e i s n o F i r s t Amendment right to make either false or misleading statements,” he said.

The state’s case points to a posting on the website of Monsanto, a biotechnology company that is taking part in the suit against the state, that describes GMOs as “plants or animals that have had their genetic makeup altered to exhibit traits that are not naturally theirs.”

“We say, ‘Listen, there’s no way you can say that this is natural,’” Sorrell said.

The suit also claims an undue burden on interstate commerce. Sorrell told the committee that the law provided more than two years’ notice to food manufacturers of the pending labeling requirement.

“The state was very accommodating there,” he said.

GMO labeling is already required in more than 60 countries. Two other states, Connecticut and Maine, have passed labeling requirements, though those have yet to take effect.

“This is not Vermont as some island in the world that’s requiring labeling,” Sorrell said.

U.S. District Judge Christina Reiss is expected to rule on the initial motions within the next several months, according to Sorrell. That will inform both sides how the rest of the case will proceed, he said.

“I think we’re hoping to be on a track where whatever evidentiary proceeding we’re going to need to do will be done sometime by late fall. Hopefully, a decision at the trial court (will happen), if not within this calendar year, then very early into the next calendar year,” he said.

Burlington Free Press: Vermont calls more GMO hearings

Associated Pres
January 27, 2015
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The Vermont Attorney General’s office is calling a second public hearing on the state’s rules to implement the ban on genetically modified organisms.

In addition to the second hearing scheduled for Feb. 4 at the Vermont Statehouse, the state has extended by two weeks the deadline for submitting written comments on the proposed rules.

The new deadline for written comments is Feb. 12.

Attorney General Bill Sorrell says officials are worried interested parties wouldn’t be able to get their comments in before the original deadline.

Last year the Vermont Legislature passed the nation’s first law to require the labeling of food made with GMOs.

VPR: Cookie Maker Says GMO Labeling Law Will Help More Than Hurt

Jan 20, 2015
Full Article & Audio

Last year, the Vermont Legislature passed a law requiring most food produced with genetically modified ingredients to be labeled by 2016. There are ongoing legal fights surrounding that law, but some small Vermont producers are already working to figure out how to comply.

Vermont Cookie Love in North Ferrisburgh, led by owner Paul Seyler, welcomes the new law and is already working towards sourcing all ingredients that do not contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Seyler says that from the beginning, Vermont Cookie Love wanted to create a product that was higher quality than anything available, so local ingredients have always been important to them. “When the non-GMO project came along, we really tried to be a part of that as soon as we could, just because it was in line with what we were already trying to do. So, it wasn’t as big of a jump for us as it was for others.”

Seyler says that being a smaller company is a great advantage for changing practices and ingredients. For example, Cookie Love recently switched a small batch of their cookie dough to organic flour. Although this could cost them as much as double the price of non-organic flour, Seyler says the cost increase to the customer will be miniscule, if any. “As we’ve evolved as a company, we’ve been able to save money in some places in order to better our product. So we might just find a way to do it without raising our price. That’s our hope,” he says.

Cookies, by default, have a lot of ingredients. So what were the hardest for Cookie Love to source non-GMO? Baking soda and salt were a challenge, Seyler says. His company also had to go on a search for a specific type of cranberries that are sweetened with cane sugar, instead of beet sugar. “Unfortunately, most of the cranberries were being exported to a European market that has much more strict laws about non-GMO,” Selyer says. He hopes that the new law in Vermont will help to keep some of the non-GMO ingredients closer to home.

There are a large number of small producers in the area like Vermont Cookie Love that will be affected by the new labeling law. Seyler says that many of these companies already have a commitment to high quality food. He explains, “The brand of Vermont is so strong, that I think most will understand what’s happening. I don’t know whether or not they will agree with it, but they’ll respect what this law is trying to do. It’s really trying to allow people to know what’s in the food they’re buying and make a more educated choice.”

As for Vermont Cookie Love, Seyler thinks the new law could even give their business a boost. “I don’t think this labeling law is going to hurt us as much as it is going to help us, because it’s going to show to the public our commitment in a way they wouldn’t have seen otherwise,” he says.

Seven Days: In Court, Vermont Makes Opening Salvo in Defense of GMO Law

Jan 7, 2015
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“Go get ’em today,” Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell said on Wednesday morning to attorney Larry Robbins, as attorneys in pinstripes and dark suits milled about a courtroom in Burlington’s federal courthouse. “Welcome to Vermont,” Sorrell said to another, working his way down a row of attorneys taking their seats in the courtroom.

What accounted for the sudden influx of out-of-state lawyers in Burlington today? That would be Vermont’s controversial Act 120, the law passed last spring that requires manufacturers to disclose the presence of genetically-engineered ingredients in foods. Signed by Gov. Peter Shumlin in May, the GMO labeling law is set to go into effect on July 1, 2016. If the law stands, it would make Vermont the first state in the country to require labeling of GE foods. Vermont’s law cites estimates that as much as 80 percent of processed foods sold in the United States contained GE ingredients.

Proponents knew a legal challenge to the law was all but guaranteed. It came in June, when four giants in the food industry — the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the Snack Food Association, the National Association of Manufacturers and the International Dairy Foods Association — filed suit against Shumlin, Sorrell and other state officials. The plaintiffs argue, among other things, that the labeling requirement is unconstitutional, violating the First Amendment by forcing companies to make statements they don’t wish to make. The plaintiffs also argue that Vermont’s law violates interstate commerce rules.

It will likely be months before Judge Christina Reiss either upholds or rejects those claims, but Wednesday’s oral arguments — which focused on Vermont’s motion to dismiss the case, and the plaintiffs’ request for a temporary injunction barring the implementation of the law — could offer a window into some of the legal nuances that could shape Reiss’s decision.

Reiss said early on that she’s confident her job isn’t to judge the merits of GE foods. (The plaintiffs maintain there’s scientific consensus that GE ingredients are safe, while Vermont’s labeling law says GE organisms “potentially pose risks to health, safety, agriculture and the environment.”) Instead, her job is to determine whether the law stands up in court.

That will depend on legal precedent, and the two sides spent much of Wednesday arguing over the case law they think best supports their position and discredits the opposing side. Both regularly cited two First Amendment standards — the less stringent Zauderer precedent, derived from a 1985 case, or the Central Hudson test, which comes from a 1980 case. Both deal with the government’s power to regulate the commercial “speech” of companies.

The plaintiffs drew frequent comparisons between the GE labeling law and Vermont’s unsuccessful attempt in 1994 to require labels indicating whether milk came from cows treated with the growth hormone rBST. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ultimately struck down the law, finding that solely satisfying consumer curiosity isn’t reason enough to require a manufacturer to make statements — even factual ones — they don’t wish to make.

Robbins argued strenuously that Vermont’s law is constitutional. “Having lost in the legislative arena … [the opponents] come to this court with constitutional arguments that simply don’t fit,” Robbins said.

On the other side of the courtroom, attorney Catherine Stetson countered that Vermont’s law is merely about satisfying the vocal opponents of genetic engineering. “The theme of [Robbins’s] argument is, ‘Give the people what they want,'” said Stetson — a point that seemed to hold merit with Reiss, who added a few minutes later, “I think there is a fair argument, and maybe more than that, that this is about consumer curiosity and nothing more.”

Stetson also argued that the Vermont law is invalid because of “preemption” — that is, the notion that Vermont has set itself at odds with the federal framework that explains how various federal agencies should deal with GE organisms.

Another point of contention on Wednesday revolved around a clause in the Vermont law that would prohibit foods including GE ingredients from being marketed as “natural” or “naturally made.” The law doesn’t include a definition of what “natural” is, though, and Reiss pushed hard against Robbins on that point. If genetic engineering isn’t “natural,” she posited, what about other advances in agriculture such as fertilizers, chemical herbicides and pesticides or hydroponic operations?

And finally, Reiss circled repeatedly back to a big-picture concern: What might happen if manufacturers opted solely to say on labels that foods “may” contain GE ingredients? Would Vermont’s labeling law actually achieve the purposes it set out to achieve?

There was some patently good news for the supporters of Vermont’s law on Wednesday. Reiss ruled early on to reject a motion from the plaintiffs that would have a struck briefs from the Center for Food Safety and Vermont Public Interest Group from the record.

The two other motions — the calls for dismissal, and an injunction — didn’t reach any resolution, though Reiss thanked both sides for offering her “lots to think about.”

After the hearing, Sorrell said Reiss had “tough questions” for both sides. “I think both sides can say we got our day in court,” he said.

It’s likely to be followed by more. Sorrell said today’s arguments — and Reiss’ opinions on the two motions — will serve as “the standard by which you go into battle,” giving litigants some glimpse into what the judge is thinking about their arguments.

In the meantime, work continues on translating the GE labeling law into the rule by which the law will be enforced. The AG’s office released a final draft of that rule last month, and will be taking public comment on the rule through January 28.

Sorrell said that case is being watched closely, nationally and internationally. “By and large, the average American, not just the average Vermonter, wants to know this information, and it’s not just out of idle curiosity,” said Sorrell. That interest is even prompting some donations. The fund organized to collect donations for the law’s defense — nicknamed the Food Fight Fund — has pulled in roughly $400,000.

But the AG’s office isn’t about to be “penny wise and pound foolish,” Sorrell said; the state’s contract with Robbins’ D.C.-based law firm is worth nearly $1.5 million. If the state loses the suit, it will be on the hook for paying the opposing side’s attorney fees, which could drive the total cost to the state up to $5 million.

Burlington Free Press: Poll: An appetite for labeling GMO foods

January 13, 2015
Full Article

A large majority of Americans support labeling of genetically modified foods, whether they care about eating them or not.

According to a December Associated Press-GfK poll, 66 percent of Americans favor requiring food manufacturers to put labels on products that contain genetically modified organisms, or foods grown from seeds engineered in labs. Only 7 percent are opposed to the idea, and 24 percent are neutral.

Fewer Americans say genetically modified ingredients are important to them when judging whether a food is healthy. About 4 in 10 said the presence of such ingredients was very or extremely important to them.

That’s higher than the share who say it’s important to know whether a food is organic, and about on par with the share saying they consider the amount of protein in a food an important factor.

For some, the debate over GMOs is about the food system overall. Andrew Chan of Seattle said he strongly favors labeling genetically modified ingredients, but those ingredients themselves aren’t most important to him. As a parent, he said his top concern is the abundance of processed foods.

“GMO ingredients aren’t the number one thing, but more than likely within a processed food I’d find something that is a genetically modified product,” said Chan, 41.

Genetically modified seeds are engineered to have certain traits, such as resistance to herbicides or certain plant diseases. Most of the country’s corn and soybean crop is now genetically modified, with much of that becoming animal feed. Modified corn and soybeans are also made into popular processed food ingredients such as corn oil, corn starch, high-fructose corn syrup and soybean oil.

Currently, the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t require labeling of genetically modified foods, saying those on the market are safe. Consumer advocates backing labeling say shoppers have a right to know what is in their food, arguing not enough is known about their effects.

The AP-GfK poll comes as several states have weighed in on the issue. Vermont became the first state to require labels for genetically modified foods last year, passing a law in May that will take effect mid-2016 if it survives legal challenges. Maine and Connecticut passed laws before Vermont, but those measures don’t take effect unless neighboring states follow suit. Ballot initiatives to require labeling were narrowly defeated in California, Washington and Oregon in recent years.

The food industry and seed companies have aggressively fought attempts to force labeling, and have pushed a bill in Congress that would block those efforts. The bill by Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kansas, would reaffirm that such food labels are voluntary, overriding any state laws that require them.

In a December congressional hearing on the issue, members of both parties were less inclined than the public to support labeling. Many questioned whether mandatory GMO labels would be misleading to consumers since there is little scientific evidence that such foods are unsafe.

According to the AP-GfK poll, public support for labeling GMOs was bipartisan, with 71 percent of Democrats and 64 percent of Republicans favoring labeling. Even among conservative Republicans, more than 6 in 10 favor a labeling requirement.

Jay Jaffe, a Republican from Philadelphia, says he strongly favors labeling even though he has no problem buying GMOs. “If they are cheaper and they taste right to me, I’ll buy it,” he says.

Still, he thinks there should be accountability in the food industry. “It should be there and not in small print,” he said of GMO labels. “People should be able to make a choice.”

Lucinda Morel, an independent who leans Democratic from Los Angeles, says she is very conscious of ingredients as a mother of three young children. She strongly favors labeling GMO foods.

Morel said she is concerned that so many foods have become modified “before we can see any ramifications or any fallout, if there is any, from making such changes so quickly.”

The food industry has faced pressure from retailers as consumer awareness of GMOs has increased. The retailer Whole Foods plans to label GMO products in all its U.S. and Canadian stores by 2018. And some companies have decided to remove the ingredients altogether.

WCAX: Vt. GMO labeling law faces 1st legal challenge

Jan 09, 2015
By Logan Crawford
Full Article & Video


National food groups are suing the state of Vermont over the labeling of genetically engineered foods. The state passed legislation to label every food product that has GMOs, but Wednesday the law faced its first legal challenge.

The hearing is not the start of the trial. It’s a chance for supporters of GMO labeling to try to get the case thrown out and opponents to stall the labeling of genetically engineered foods.

National food manufacturers are suing the Green Mountain State, arguing Vermont’s new GMO labeling law is unconstitutional. Opponents say the labels would violate First Amendment free speech rights. And they argue the state of Vermont has no authority to order GMO labeling while the Food and Drug Administration does not require genetically engineered foods be labeled.

Attorneys for the food associations declined to comment on camera about the case but sent a statement to WCAX saying: “The U.S. Constitution prohibits Vermont from regulating nationwide distribution and labeling practices that facilitate interstate commerce. That is the sole province of the federal government.”

Another argument some in the food industry have made is that GMO labels could wrongly imply foods are unsafe.

But state officials say they are on solid legal ground that GMO labels are no different from other labels indicating what is in a food item.

“The same way they’re required to disclose sugar content, fat content, calories, salt, whatever. It’s not caution this is harmful to your health, it’s just for consumers to look at two packages, see what’s in them and make a decision on which they want to buy,” said Bill Sorrell, D-Vt. Attorney General.

A U.S. District Court judge is considering the state’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit and the industry’s motion to block the law from taking effect until after the legal case is decided. Sorrell says Wednesday’s hearing is just the first day of a process that could take months. The lawsuit will take even longer.

“I’ll be really surprised if this case is over in the next few years, it’s going to take a long time. But we’re fighting, and we hope to have the law upheld,” said Sorrell.

The GMO labeling law is scheduled to start July 1, 2016, but the judge’s decision on this hearing will determine when the law will take effect and if the case will go to trial. The state has a fund to help with legal costs called the Vermont Food Fight Fund. Donations from individuals to the likes of Ben & Jerry’s have raised more than $330,000 so far according to the Food Fight Fund’s Twitter.

Food Navigator: Pro- and anti-GMO labeling camps square up for battle in Vermont: Clock is ticking on ‘unconstitutional’ law, says GMA

By Elaine Watson+
Full Article

Supporters and opponents of GMO labeling will square up in a courtroom in Burlington, Vermont, today (Jan 7) to present oral arguments over the merits of Act 120, which will require mandatory labeling of foods produced with genetic engineering.