Full list: GMO News

Burlington Free Press: VPIRG to help in GMO labeling defense

Free Press Staff
October 8, 2014
Full Article

Two consumer groups — Vermont Public Interest Research Group and the Center for Food Safety — will be allowed to file legal briefs in the GMO labeling case, a federal judge has ruled.

Christian Reiss, chief judge of the U.S. District Court of Vermont, said the two groups could participate in the case as friends of the court.

She rejected their request to intervene in the case, saying their interests would be represented by the state, which is defending the 2014 law.

“We’ve very pleased to be granted the opportunity to help defend the GMO labeling law from attack by giant corporate interests,” said Paul Burns, executive director of VPIRG. “We helped more than 32,000 Vermonters share their concerns over GMOs with their legislators as the law was being debated in Montpelier. We know how much this issue matters to the State and to consumers, and we’ll do everything we can to ensure that Vermonters’ right to make informed decisions is upheld.”

Supporters of Vermont’s law, which takes effect in 2016, say labeling would bring transparency to the information consumers would have about their food.


CBS: VT to Hold Hearings on GMO Labeling Rules

October 13 2014
Full Article
MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell is planning three public meetings on proposed rules to implement the new state law requiring the labeling of food produced through genetic engineering.
The meetings will be held the week of Oct. 20 in Burlington, Montpelier and Brattleboro.
Sorrell, whose office is responsible for promulgating the rules of the law, says the rules will provide clarity on the scope and reach of the law and its goal of providing information while minimizing burdens on the regulated community.
The meetings are designed to get feedback from producers, retailers and consumers. Last spring, Gov. Peter Shumlin signed a first-in-the-nation law requiring the labeling of food made with GMOs.

Grist: Ben & Jerry’s is fighting GMOs with fudge brownie ice cream


Brattleboro Reformer: VPIRG denied intervener status in GMO lawsuit

By BOB AUDETTE
10/10/14
Full Article

BRATTLEBORO — A federal judge has denied a motion to allow two groups to become interveners in a lawsuit filed against the state by the Grocery Manufacturers Association.

However, wrote Judge Christina Reiss, the Vermont Public Interest Research Group and the Center for Food Safety will be allowed to file friend of the court briefs in support of the state’s new law concerning the labeling of food products containing genetically engineered products.

In June, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the Snack Food Association, the International Dairy Foods Association and the National Association of Manufacturers filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont a lawsuit to overturn Act 120, which requires manufacturers and retailers to identify whether raw and processed food sold in Vermont was produced in while or in part through genetic engineering.

The law is intended to go into effect on July 1, 2016, unless Reiss issues an injunction, which the plaintiffs have requested. In August, the Vermont Attorney General’s Office filed a motion to dismiss. A hearing for oral arguments in support and opposed to the motions has been tentatively scheduled for Dec. 18 or 19.

In denying intervener status to VPIRG and CFS, Reiss noted that the two organizations have demonstrated “a significant interest” in the passage of Act 120 and would be “impaired” if it was held unconstitutional

She noted that the court need not resolve the question of necessity “because intervention is warranted only if (VPIRG and CFS) can also demonstrate that their interest in this case is not ‘protected adequately by the parties to the action.'”

In this case, wrote Reiss, the state’s interests in defending Act 120 are so similar to those of VPIRG and CFS that “adequacy of representation (is) assured.”

VPIRG and CFS had argued that the financial resources required to fight a lawsuit filed by plaintiffs with “sizable income and resources” raises fiscal concerns about the state’s ability to defend Act 120. However, wrote Reiss, if at any point the state indicates its financial resources are strained, the parties can renew their request for intervention.

The state’s strategy in defending Act 120 and VPIRG’s and CFS’ motive for litigation also are not a cause for intervention, wrote Reiss.

“Professed differences in trial strategy are insufficient to entitle a party to intervene …”

Because VPIRG and CFS intend to add to, rather than duplicate the state’s defense, wrote Reiss, they will be allowed to file memoranda as friends of the court.

In their motion for an injunction, the plaintiffs wrote Vermont’s law rests on philosophical or religious beliefs, concerns about large-scale agricultural operations, or biases against certain companies, which have nothing to do with the food itself.

They contend Act 120 is meant “to pacify a vocal segment of the population that opposes genetic engineering.”

 


ABC: Consumer Reports: Food labeling for GMOs

Full Article & Video

The controversy is growing over whether foods should be labeled if they contain GMOs, “genetically modified organisms.” Vermont recently passed legislation requiring GMO labeling. Dozens of other states are considering similar actions. And labeling requirements are on the ballot in Oregon and Colorado this fall. Consumer Reports tested more than 80 processed foods to see just how widespread GMOs are and whether you can trust food labels.

About 90 percent of corn produced in the U.S. is now genetically modified, as with ssoybeans. Consumer Reports’ tests show GMOs can be in many foods, including these cereals, these snack bars and these soy-based infant formulas.

Since labeling is not required, you can’t tell by looking at the package, although some may say “No GMO,” “Non GMO” or “Non-GMO Project Verified.”

Consumer Reports tested a variety of products containing soy or corn for GMOs, at least 2 samples of each, each from a different lot.

“Unless they were labeled organic, the vast majority of products without a specific claim regarding GMOs actually did contain a substantial amount,” says Michael Crupain, M.D., M.P.H of Consumer Reports.

What about foods labeled “natural?” A Consumer Reports’ survey of one thousand people found that more than 60 percent believe “natural” means “no GMOs.” That’s not what the tests found.

“There is no legal definition for the claim ‘natural’ on processed foods,” says Crupain. “Virtually all the samples we tested that said “natural” but didn’t make claims about being organic or non GMO in fact contained a high percentage of GMOs.”

Then there are unverified claims, like “Non GMO.” Though not independently certified, they mostly proved accurate in Consumer Reports’ tests.

The one exception: these Xochitl corn chips, They’re labeled “no GMO,” but contained a high proportion of GMO corn in all six samples tested. Its “Organic” white corn chips did meet Consumer Reports’ standards for non-GMO.
“Our findings confirmed that the most reliable labels for avoiding GMOs are ‘Non-GMO Project Verified,’ or organic – both independently certified,” Crupain says.

A spokesperson for Xochitl chips told Consumer Reports that the company and its supplier “are both baffled” by Consumer Reports’ test results.


Seven Days: Fair Game: Truth in Labeling

By Paul Heintz
10/8/14
Full Article

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!”


Agri-Pulse: USDA stumped in probe into unauthorized GE wheat found in Oregon

By Sarah Gonzalez
Sept. 26, 2014
Full Article

WASHINGTON, Sept. 26, 2014 – After a 16-month investigation, USDA says it’s been unable to determine how unapproved genetically-engineered wheat made its way into a farm field in Oregon last year.

The 12,842-page report, released today by USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), offers no conclusions as to how the plants, which contained a trait developed by Monsanto that makes them resistant to the herbicide glyphosate, came to grow in the field.

“We were not able to make a conclusion as to how it happened,” Bernadette Juarez, the director of investigation and enforcement services at APHIS and the chief investigator for the Oregon incident, said in a conference call with reporters.

The report, however, said the detection, which came to USDA’s attention in May 2013, appears to have been an isolated incident and there is no evidence GE wheat found its way into commercial channels.

Juarez said the theory that the wheat was planted intentionally — to undermine the acceptance of GE products — was explored, but could not be ruled out or confirmed.

She said the investigation was “one of the most thorough and scientifically detailed investigations ever conducted” through APHIS. She said her team closed the investigation that began on May 3, 2013, after exhausting all leads.

APHIS said it conducted 291 interviews with wheat growers, grain elevator operators, crop consultants, and wheat researchers. Investigators also collected more than 100 samples from businesses that sold or purchased the same certified seed planted in the field in Oregon, as well as from businesses that purchased the harvested grain from the grower.

“After exhausting all leads, APHIS was unable to determine exactly how the GE wheat came to grow in the farmer’s field,” the agency concluded.

Juarez also discussed a new investigation of GE wheat found growing in July at a Montana State University research center. Authorized field trials of GE wheat had been conducted at the site from 2000 to 2003.

Juarez said genetic testing shows that the GE wheat recently found at this research facility was similar to the wheat tested more than a decade earlier. It contains the same Monsanto trait that makes it resistant to glyphosate, and but she said the variety of the plant is “significantly different from the GE wheat found growing at the Oregon farm last year.”

The Montana incident affected between 1-3 acres in total. About 125 acres were investigated in the Oregon GE wheat discovery. APHIS said the investigation into the Montana incident is continuing, and emphasized that this event is not related to the event in Oregon.


Capital Press: Unauthorized GMO wheat in Montana

Mateusz Perkowski
USDA said more biotech wheat was found at a former field trial site in Montana but it’s unrelated to a 2013 unauthorized release in Oregon. The agency has ended its investigation into the Oregon incident without firm conclusions as to its source.

Unauthorized biotech wheat was found growing this summer in Montana but it’s not the source of an earlier unauthorized release in Oregon, according to USDA.

Several acres of wheat volunteers genetically engineered by the Monsanto Co. to withstand glyphosate herbicides were found growing at a Montana State University research center in July, an agency official said Friday.

The site was used for field trials of “Roundup Ready” wheat between 2000 and 2003, said Bernadette Juarez, director of investigative and enforcement services at USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

The “Roundup Ready” genetic trait is the same as the one discovered by an Eastern Oregon farmer in the spring of 2013, but the wheat is otherwise genetically different, she said. The agency has closed its investigation into that incident without reaching firm conclusions as to its source.

The Oregon biotech wheat volunteers were not found near a previous field trial site and show genetic characteristics associated with a wheat breeding program, Juarez said.

Biotech wheat at MSU’s Southern Agricultural Research Center near Huntley, Mont., is less genetically diverse, she said. Its discovery was similar, however: a field was sprayed with glyphosate but the volunteers persisted.

Juarez said the agency has launched an investigation into the Montana incident but isn’t ready to say whether the biotech wheat volunteers are the offspring of several generations of the crop that repeatedly sprouted for more than a decade after the field trials.

The volunteers were growing on several acres but at a low density, she said. The acreage is smaller than in Oregon, where the biotech wheat grew on a portion of the farmer’s 125-acre field.

Because the Montana incident occurred at the site of a previous field trial, the USDA does not expect that foreign wheat buyers will stop imports of U.S. wheat, said Juarez.

In 2013, exports to Japan and South Korea were temporarily halted until a genetic testing protocol was established to screen for genetically engineered wheat.

“We remain confident wheat exports will continue without disruption,” she said.

The investigation into the unauthorized release in Oregon has ended without any determinations about the source of the biotech wheat, though USDA continues to believe it was an isolated incident and none of the crop entered commerce.

Testing has not found any genetically engineered traits in the U.S. wheat supply, Juarez said.

Investigators from APHIS followed numerous leads and were able to rule out several possible sources for the escape, she said. Their investigation generated about 13,000 pages of paperwork, which will be released to the public with names and other personal information redacted.

No enforcement action against Monsanto or any other party will be taken in connection with the Oregon incident, Juarez said.

The agency will be examining other field trial sites in multiple states and reviewing its policies for keeping biotech crops contained, she said.

The Center for Food Safety, a non-profit group that’s critical of the USDA’s biotech oversight, sees the new discovery in Montana as “alarming,” said George Kimbrell, an attorney for the group.

“I don’t know if it’s worse or better if they’re unrelated,” he said. “It indicates either two escapes or a bigger escape.”


Denver Post: GMO labeling measure in Colorado triggers heated debate

By Colleen O’Connor
09/29/2014
Full Article

With the Nov. 4 ballot measure, Colorado is at the forefront of a fierce food fight raging across the nation: whether or not to label foods made with genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, so consumers can easily see if the food they buy is a product of genetic engineering.

Similar ballot initiatives failed in California and Washington in the past two years.

This spring, Vermont became the first state to approve GMO labeling. But then a group of national organizations — led by the Grocery Manufacturers Association — filed a lawsuit in federal court that challenges the new law. This could be the first of many lawsuits to block mandatory GMO labeling, experts say, and now Colorado jumps into the high-stakes debate.

“It will be a hot issue for quite a while in this state,” said Katie Abrams, an assistant professor at Colorado State University who researches consumer understanding of food labels. “And it’s going on in more places than just Colorado.”

GMO labeling will also be on the ballot in Oregon, and this year about 35 similar bills were introduced in 20 states.

If the measure passes in Colorado, by 2016 packaged or raw foods made with GMOs that are sold in retail outlets must be labeled with the phrase “produced with genetic engineering.” Exemptions include processed food intended for immediate human consumption, like at restaurants and delis.

Supporters of the Colorado measure — including Natural Grocers and Eco-Justice Ministries — say mandatory labeling would create transparency for consumers, allowing them to choose what they want to serve at their family tables.

But opponents — including the Colorado Farm Bureau and the Rocky Mountain Agribusiness Association — say the measure would cost Colorado taxpayers millions of dollars, increase grocery costs for families, and create expensive new bureaucratic requirements that would hurt the state’s farmers.

As the vote nears, events that explore GMOs are popping up around the metro area, such as the Seeds of Doubt conference in Broomfield on Oct. 11, featuring researchers who’ve studied GMOs and their impact on health and environment.

GMO opponents believe that the process is harmful to health, pointing to studies that connect GMO with 65 health risks, from allergies to infertility. GMO supporters point to hundreds of peer-reviewed studies they say show the safety of genetically engineered foods. Both sides agree that no long-term human health studies have been conducted.

“It’s about education,” said Cheryl Gray, a registered dietitian who helped organize Seeds of Doubt. “We’re bringing in people involved in this world to tell their stories and bring their research forward. … Being consumers, we want to know, and we want transparency.”

Whole Foods, which supports the measure, will hold a tasting of non-GMO foods on Oct. 18 from noon to 3 p.m. at all of its Colorado stores.

And Monday at the sixth annual Chefs Collaborative Sustainable Food Summit in Boulder, there are two workshops on GMOs featuring such national experts as Gary Hirshberg, co-founder of Stonyfield Farm and chairman of Just Label It campaign.

“A lot of chefs are trying to practice a more natural and organic philosophy in cooking food,” said Michael Scott, lead chef instructor at the Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts in Boulder. “If I have ingredients that I can’t find out are GMO produced or not, I can’t make a proper decision whether to use them or not.”

Supporters hope, and opponents fear, that labeling will lead to an economic boycott of GMO food products.

But experts aren’t so sure.

“Most research on consumer buying shows that people act on taste, price, convenience and other factors,” said Abrams of CSU. “They usually do what’s best for the wallet.”

Whole Foods isn’t waiting to find out. Last year, the company made the decision to label all food products if they contain GMOs, a massive project that should be complete by 2018. But small businesses like Denver Urban Homesteading say the costs created by mandatory labeling would put small markets out of business.

As the debate plays out in Colorado, Bradford Heap has already forged ahead, converting his two restaurants — Salt in Boulder and Colterra in Niwot — into GMO-free eateries.

It took six months to source all the products, from meat down to vinegar, making sure it wasn’t produced with corn.

What is a GMO?

Genetically modified foods are derived from organisms whose DNA has been modified in a way that does not occur naturally, according to the World Health Organization. Most genetically modified crops have been developed to resist plant diseases or better tolerate herbicides. The most important GMO crops are corn, soy, cotton and canola. According to the FDA, most processed foods include some of these ingredients, like cornstarch in soups and sauces and corn syrup as a general purpose sweetener. Sugar is also included, because the sugar Americans consume either comes from cane or genetically engineered sugar beets.

On the ballot

Voters will be asked to vote on whether food that has been genetically modified or treated with genetically modified material should be labeled “Produced with Genetic Engineering” starting July 1, 2016. Foods that would be exempt include food from animals that are not genetically modified but have been fed or injected with genetically modified food or drugs; certain food not packaged for retail sale and intended for immediate human consumption; alcoholic beverages; and medically prescribed foods.

 


Watchdog.org: GMO labeling not about money for organics, says Vermont organic farmer-senator

By Bruce Parker
9/16/2014
Full Article

Mandatory GMO labeling laws are a break-even bet at best for supporters of the policy, typically organic activists, a Vermont senator and organic farmer says.

“Right now organic is benefiting from there not being labeling,” state Sen. David Zuckerman, P-Chittenden, told Vermont Watchdog.

If the organic industry loses or merely breaks even from GMO labeling, it would present a rarity in politics: interest groups spending massive money but expecting no financial benefit in return.

Zuckerman, the sponsor behind Vermont’s GMO labeling law and a farmer who owns the Full Moon “certified organic” farm in Hinesburg, Vt., argues that the state’s mandatory labeling of genetically engineered ingredients might actually harm the sale of organics.

“The only way consumers can reliably avoid GMOs is to buy organic food,” Zuckerman said. “But if all products are labeled, the products that are not organic and not GMO will become more apparent to the consumer. So for consumers who are buying organic specifically to avoid GMOs, they will have a wider range of options, not a narrower one.”

Once GMO-averse consumers are able to buy non-organic products marked GMO-free, they will, and the organics industry will lose sales, Zuckerman said.

“I’m not saying it will be negative to organic, but it certainly should dispel the notion that it will be helpful to organic,” he said.

This summer, pro-organic special interests have been spending lavishly defending Vermont’s new GMO labeling law.

Ceres Trust, a foundation billing itself as “an organic agriculture research initiative,” donated $50,000 to Food Fight Fund, Vermont’s legal defense fund for GMO labeling.

The foundation, which lists operations in Northfield, Minn. and Milwaukee and Middleton, Wis., is run by philanthropists Judith Kern and Kent Whealy. Kern and Whealy give hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to the Center for Food Safety led by renowned organic activist Andrew Kimbrell.

With solid funding from Ceres Trust, the Center for Food Safety presently seeks to intervene as a defendant in Vermont’s court battle with the Grocery Manufacturers Association, a move supported by Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell.

Corporate watchdog SumOfUs and liberal political policy non-profit MoveOn.org have joined Ceres Trust, donating $78,000 and $53,000 respectively to Food Fight Fund Vermont.

Unlike Zuckerman, Will Allen, an organic grower who owns Cedar Circle Farm in East Thetford, Vt., thinks labeling spells the end for foods that contain GMOs.

“What’s going to happen is there won’t be very much genetically modified food on the shelves,” Allen told Vermont Watchdog. “If you look at the EU, you have a tough time finding any food that says genetic modification on it. The companies there realize we can’t sell this. As soon as you label it (as containing GMOs), you can’t sell it.

Allen says labeling will force the elimination of all GMOs in the United States, in contrast to Zuckerman, who sees a future where consumers read labels and choose whether they want to buy food with genetically modified ingredients.

“There won’t be this scare on the part of people being afraid of genetically modified food, because it won’t be out there,” Allen said.

Companies like General Foods, Kraft and Kellogg’s will avoid genetically modified foods out of fear of labeling, Allen said. The top seed companies, however, will continue to put up a fight.

“So it’s like DuPont, Monsanto, Dow, Syngenta – it’s not a big club, but they control most of the seed supply. They also are the genetic engineers. They would like to keep as much genetic engineering seed on the market as possible because they are the only ones providing it,” he says.”