Vermont Right to Know GMOs

A Collaborative Project between
Northeast Organic Farmers Association VT
Rural Vermont, Cedar Circle FarmVermont Public Interest Research Group

More information at http://www.vtrighttoknowgmos.org

August 2016

A message from the VT Right to Know GMOs Coalition of which Rural Vermont is a founding partner:

As you may have heard, President Obama signed the so called “DARK Act” that overrides Vermont’s GMO labeling law, and the Vermont Attorney General announced that our law will no longer be enforced. Despite this heartbreaking turn of events, we should ALL be incredibly proud of what we accomplished over the past few years.

Today, if you go into grocery stores in Vermont and across the nation you will find genetically engineered foods labeled for the first time  — Vermont was a driving force in making that happen. National food manufacturers like Campbell’s and Mars have announced that they will continue to label their products, and others are expected to follow suit. Vermont has also successfully defended our law in court, bolstering consumers’ right to know about what is in a wide range of products on our store shelves.

In the end, a lot more people know what is in their food because of what we did here in Vermont.

This all begs the question “What’s next”? The campaign for transparency and fairness in our food system is not going to end, but the playing field is shifting. For example, over the next two years our VT Right to Know GMOs Coalition will work with allies across the country to make the new national labeling standard as strong as possible, despite its many substantial flaws. We will also work with consumers to call on companies who labeled their food for Vermont to continue labeling their products as the national standards are being developed.

This campaign has been so inspiring, and it shows once again the amazing impact our small state can have on important national issues. We know that many of you spent countless hours contacting your legislators, attending workshops, and driving to Montpelier to make your voice heard, and we can’t thank you enough. None of this would have ever been possible if it was not for the tens of thousands of you, Vermonters and other citizen activists who engaged in our political process demanding that we have a right to know what is in our food.

Change of this magnitude does not come easily or quickly. We have more work to do, but at this historic moment it is important to recognize and celebrate what we all accomplished together, and we thank all of you for helping achieve what many thought was impossible.

Thank you from the Vermont Right to Know GMOs team.

P.S. Below you will find some more thoughts from our team members about what this news means to each of us.

“The actions taken by the Congress and the President to overturn our labeling laws are deeply troubling, but not surprising. We need to continue to work to create a system where our elected officials represent the public interest, not a handful of wealthy special interests.” Falko Schilling, VPIRG Consumer and Environmental Advocate

“We are committed to creating a transparent and just food system. The fact that the federal sham GMO Labeling law has also wiped out Vermont’s long-standing GE Seed Labeling law is an affront to states’ rights and farmers’ that we will work to overcome.” Andrea Stander, Rural Vermont Director

“Vermont’s long-standing seed labeling law, also nullified by the DARK Act, is an area of deep concern. The law served well to inform consumers and growers about the seeds they are purchasing and provided much needed data to the Agency of Food and Markets giving Vermont the ability to track genetically engineered seed sales in the state.” Cat Buxton, Grow More Waste Less Food Systems Consulting LLC.

“While we are deeply disappointed that this flawed, discriminatory, and anti-consumer bill is now law, this fight is far from over. We will continue to work tirelessly for a food system with integrity, transparency, and one that demonstrates respect for the land that sustains us all.” Maddie Monty, Policy Advisor NOFA-VT

If you are interested in the backstory to how this sham of a GMO Labeling law was passed, read these helpful FAQs put together by Citizens for GMO Labeling.

 

May 2016

Toward the end of the legislative session, we discovered proposals being considered in the State House that would have opened up Vermont’s GMO labeling law to several changes. Thanks to your calls, emails, and the work of our supporters, we were able to fight off the proposals that could have affected the law’s implementation. The budget does contain a provision that would delay a citizen’s ability to bring a lawsuit under Act 120 for one year, but it does nothing to stop the Attorney General from enforcing the law or push back hammer_lawthe law’s start date. We will keep fighting in Vermont to make sure our law remains strong.

March 16, 2016: UPDATE

Today there was a big victory for Vermonters and consumers across the country who support the right to know what is in our food. The U.S. Senate voted to block a bill which would have completely wiped out state labeling laws including Vermont’s. The bill, introduced by Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS), chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, was rushed to the floor with virtually no debate in a desperate scheme to preempt Vermont’s law before it takes effect on July 1st. Thankfully, Vermont’s Senators Leahy and Sanders led the charge to stop Roberts’ bill, which received only 49 of the 60 votes needed for passage.

Please take a minute to give them a call of thanks:

Leahy: 202-224-4242 and Sanders: 202-224-5141

We also want to thank all of you who took the time to make calls to key senators before this vote. It is clear that pressure from the grassroots is playing a crucial role in holding the line against the corporate lobbyists.

Today’s victory is worth celebrating. It is the third time in the past six months that we have successfully defeated efforts by the Senate to undermine states’ rights and the rights of consumers. However, it is not the end of the fight for Vermont’s labeling law. The Senate will be in recess for two weeks beginning this Friday, but we expect Monsanto, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, and their corporate collaborators to continue to wield their influence in the halls of Congress and undermine your right to know what is in the food you eat and purchase for your family. We need to remain vigilant, and we will keep you informed as the situation unfolds and your help is needed again. For more information contact Andrea or visit the VT Right to Know GMOs Coalition website.

March 4, 2016: 

The U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture voted in favor of the new “DARK Act” this week. The bill, introduced by Chairman Pat Roberts, is designed to stop the movement for GMO labeling in its tracks-  undermining the public’s right to know and states’ rights to inform their citizens about the potential health and environmental implications of the products they buy. Similar legislation passed the House of Representatives this summer.

With Vermont’s labeling law set to be implemented this July, biotech and big food industries are scrambling for a last minute measure to block it. This bill goes even further than preempting Vermont’s law and would have a significant impact in jurisdictions beyond Vermont. According to an analysis by the Center for Food Safety, the Roberts bill would preempt at least 137 existing statutes, regulations and ordinances at the state and municipal level.[i] Some of the laws that would be blocked include Alaska’s labeling requirement for genetically engineered fish and shell fish, as well as Vermont and Virginia’s longstanding GE seed labeling laws.

Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy stood among others to denounce the intentions and potential impact of the bill. Leahy pointed to the absence of hearings and discussion of the Senate bill as an affront to Vermont’s democratic process. Vermont’s GMO labeling law, he noted, was passed only after “The Vermont Legislature held 52 committee hearings, and heard 136 presentations of testimony on both sides of the food labeling issue…

While it is unclear whether this legislation has enough bipartisan support to pass the Senate, a new mandatory labeling bill has been introduced from Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) that would require the disclosure of GMO ingredients on Nutrition Facts labels. The bill is co-sponsored by Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Sen. Leahy.

February 4, 2016:  The Vermont Attorney General’s Office has set up the following informational page for producers with questions about how to comply with Vermont’s GMO labeling law (scheduled to go into effect in July 2016): http://ago.vermont.gov/hot-topics/ge-food-labeling-rule.php  Specific questions should be sent to the dedicated email address: ago.GEFoodLabelingRule@vermont.gov

December 16, 2015 – Federal spending bill rejects anti-GMO labeling push: The biotech and junk food industries have been fighting tooth and nail to preempt states’ ability to label genetically engineered products, and in particular to kill Vermont’s law before companies need to start the labeling process.

Their most recent strategy to try to block mandatory GMO labeling through an end-of-the-year, must-pass spending bill was further proof of the underhanded tactics used to sidestep the broad citizen support for labeling and the rights of states to implement labeling requirements.

Lawmakers also responded in the omnibus spending bill to the FDA’s approval last month of genetically engineered salmon. The Agency will be required, for the first time, to develop labels for the AquAdvantage salmon before they are allowed on the market – this is a really incredible victory for right to know advocates!

 

September 2, 2015: Monday, Aug. 31, Rural Vermont joined the three other members of the VT Right to Know GMO Coalition in filing an amicus curiae brief with the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in support of Vermont’s genetically engineered (GE) food labeling law. Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG), Cedar Circle Farm, Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont (NOFA-VT) and Rural Vermont were instrumental in passing Act 120, Vermont’s labeling law, and are continuing to fight for it in court. Read the press here. Read the full Amicus Brief here.

Consumers Union, Ben & Jerry’s and Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility also submitted an amicus brief in support of VT.

National Update: In July, 2015, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill (H.1599) that would squash Vermont’s law by prohibiting states from passing their own labeling laws. It is referred to as the D.A.R.K. Act (Deny Americans the Right to Know) because it would substitute a totally voluntary national labeling process that would include allowing the term “natural” to be used on GMO foods. The bill now moves to the Senate where there is hope it will never see the light of day. If you want to help Vermont implement and defend its first in the nation GMO Food Labeling law please consider making a donation to the Vermont Food Fight Fund and also to Rural Vermont so we can continue our advocacy on this issue that affects everyone.

You can also read more about this issue in this article about Neil Young’s recent visit to VT and his support for GMO Labeling.

Vermont’s First-in-the-Nation-Labeling Law

On Monday, April 27th Judge Christina Reiss declared that the heart of Vermont’s GMO labeling law is constitutional, and that the state can move forward with implementing the law while the case is debated. This is only the first round of what could be a long legal battle, but it is a strong start.

Get more info and the full text of the decision here.

The opinion did question if the prohibition on calling GMOs natural would survive at trial, but found that requiring labels on GMO foods does not violate the constitution. Next steps in the case may include proceeding to trial to resolve outstanding claims, or an appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

Read the coalition’s statement on Judge Reiss’ decision

On Wednesday, January 7th the Federal District Court in Burlington heard the first oral arguments on Vermont’s landmark GMO labeling law. The arguments will center on the State’s Motion to Dismiss the lawsuit, and the Plaintiffs’ request to stop implementation of the law.

Find all the latest legal documents in the case to label GMOs.

After the oral arguments, the Judge will deliberate and issue a decision, probably within the next few months.  More updates at http://www.vtrighttoknowgmos.org/

Recent Updates

On Friday, August 8, 2014 Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell defended Vermont’s new labeling law with a 51-page federal court filing. He asked the court to throw out a lawsuit seeking to overturn the law filed by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the National Association of Manufacturers, International Dairy Foods Association and the Snack Foods Association. Read the Burlington Free Press article here.

On July 21, 2014 VPIRG and the Center for Food Safety (CFS), jointly represented by counsel from Vermont Law and CFS, formally moved to defend Vermont’s genetically engineered food labeling law, Act 120. The groups filed legal papers to intervene on behalf of the State of Vermont in order to assist in defending Act 120 from a legal challenge brought by the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and other food industry trade associations. GMA, which represents the country’s largest food manufacturers, sued Vermont just over a month after the law was signed.

Read the press release here. Read a recent article from the Times Argus here.

Rural Vermont will consider filing an amicus or “friend of the court” brief at the appropriate time if VPIRG and CFS gain party status.

VermontGMO_H112signed_169-725x400On May 8th, Governor Shumlin signed Vermont’s GMO labeling bill into law, making Vermont the first state that will require labels on genetically engineered foods! The law will require labels on genetically engineered foods sold at retail outlets in Vermont, and will go in to effect on July 1st 2016. The law would also prohibit labeling products produced with genetic engineering as “natural”, “100% natural” or “all natural”.

FoodFightFund-logo-final2-333x333Now the work to implement and defend the law begins. If you want to be able to choose food that supports your values consider making a contribution here: http://www.foodfightfundvt.org/

Thank you to all of the activists across the state for this victory!

Read the VPR article about the signing ceremony and check out a great slideshow of photos from the event here.

Looking for more information? GMO Myths and Truths is a newly updated and substantially expanded edition of the original publication which came out in 2012. In particular, it summarizes many of the most recent studies and research. It is authored by two genetic engineers, Dr. John Fagan and Dr. Michael Antoniou and researcher Claire Robinson. If you’re ready to dig deeper into the science of GMOs this is your summer reading!

2014 Campaign Highlights

April 23rd: Vermont legislature passes the nation’s first “no strings attached” GMO labeling bill! The House of Representatives voted 114 to 30 to concur with the Senate’s version of H.112, and the bill now heads to Governor Shumlin’s desk for his signature. This is a huge victory for consumers everywhere and it would not have happened without the efforts of people like you! Read the final version of H.112. Find out how your representative voted.

The following statement was issued by Governor Shumlin shortly after the passage of the bill: “I am proud of Vermont for being the first state in the nation to ensure that Vermonters will know what is in their food. The Legislature has spoken loud and clear through its passage of this bill,” Shumlin stated Wednesday afternoon. “I wholeheartedly agree with them and look forward to signing this bill into law.”

H.112 will require labels on GMO foods starting in 2016, and would go in to effect without actions in other states. We could not have asked for a better outcome, and it is all thanks to you!

This campaign has been energizing and inspiring to all of us who have worked to label GMO foods. The nation is watching what we are doing here, and it is all because Vermonters like you stood up and made it clear they have a right to know what is in their food.

April 22nd: GMO LABELING BILL FINAL VOTE WED. APRIL 23

The House Ag Committee voted 9-2 to concur with the Senate’s amendments to H.112, the GMO Labeling Bill. They arrived at this decision after consultations with the House Judiciary and Appropriations Committees. There was a lot of discussion, many questions were asked and in the end they agreed that the Senate did a good job of strengthening the bill.

April 16th: VT Senate passes GMO Labeling Bill, H.112, 28-2! The House of Representatives will now decide whether to accept the Senate’s bill, or form a conference committee to review it further. Stay tuned for updates!

April 15th: Vermont Senate votes 26-2 to approve the GMO Labeling Bill. Check the roll call to find out how your senator voted.

Vt Senate Chamber

Vt Senate Chamber

April 11: GMO Labeling Bill Heads to a Senate Floor Vote

On Thursday afternoon the Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously passed the VT GMO Food Labeling bill. They made only minor changes and the bill now heads to the Senate Floor for a vote early next week.

April 4th: The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 5-0 to move H.112 forward. The bill would put labels on GMO foods starting July 1st, 2016.

The bill will be moving on to the Appropriations Committee next week and then hopefully to the Senate Floor. The Appropriations Committee will look at how to create a fund for individuals to contribute to help with implementation of the law. Things are really heating up in the State House, so we need you to contact your Senator and ask them to pass H.112 “as is.”

Read a summary of H.112 as passed by the Judiciary Committee. Read a helpful list of talking points about H.112.

March 24th: GMO Bill Moves Through the Legislative Gauntlet

The Senate Judiciary Committee

The VT Senate Judiciary Committee

The Senate Judiciary Committee has been taking substantial testimony on the bill (H.112) during the past two weeks. This included a panel of “experts” addressing the constitutional issues in the bill. Thanks to everyone who has come to the State House to attend the committee sessions.


Policy Update:
Leaders of the VT Right to Know Coalition give video update on VT’s GMO Labeling bill and what it will take to pass the bill this year – you can help!

Public Hearing Victory: Senate Agriculture Committee Approves GMO Labeling Bill 4-1

Photo by Roger Crowley

Photo by Roger Crowley

Following a packed public hearing in the House Chamber the night before, the members of the Senate Agriculture Committee met on 2/7/14 to review proposed changes to H.112, the GMO Labeling Bill. They then passed the bill by a vote of 4-1 with no trigger clause to impact the effective date of the bill. The bill will now be referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee where it will likely be taken up some time after the Town Meeting week break.

Photo by Roger Crowley

Photo by Roger Crowley

1/16/14 CITIZEN LOBBY DAY FOR GMO LABELING A HUGE SUCCESS!

Thank you to all of the activists who came from every corner of the state to rally and lobby their senators in support of labeling genetically engineered foods.


Read highlights from event here.

If you haven’t already, please join the VT Right to Know GMOs email list to receive timely updates and information on how you can get involved.

The work of Rural Vermont and the Vermont Right to Know Coalition over the past two years has been successful in building overwhelming grassroots support for the issue and convincing Vermont legislators of the importance of GMO Labeling for Vermonters.

By David Fitzsimmons, Cagle Cartoons, originally published in The Arizona Star

By David Fitzsimmons, Cagle Cartoons, originally published in The Arizona Star

2013 Campaign:

On Friday, May 10th, 2013, the Vermont House of Representatives became the first state legislative body in the nation to pass a GMO labeling bill with a resoundingly positive vote of 99 to 42. Legislators received more messages from GMO Labeling supporters than on any issue in recent years. On May 18, 2013, while being interviewed on Vermont Public Radio, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin pledged his support for H.112 and stated that he looked forward to signing the bill.

Interested in learning more about GMOs? Watch the Burlington Grassroots Action Forum on GMO Labeling! A recording of the 2/28/13 event can be streamed here thanks to Channel 17 Town Meeting Television. Email us to find out how you can get involved today!

Visit this page to learn about a 2012 event in Burlington where protestors said NO to Monsanto’s claim that its genetically engineered seeds and crops represent the future of sustainable agriculture.