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

July 15, 2016 ACTION NEEDED

On Thurs. July 14th, the U.S. House joined the U.S. Senate in ignoring the demands of 90% of American consumers siding instead with industrial food interests and their horde of well-funded lobbyists. Once again, without allowing amendments to be considered, the House voted 306-117 to accept the Senate’s “compromise” bill. It is now headed to President Obama’s desk.

Rural Vermont and the VT Right to Know GMOs Coalition join the national coalition supporting REAL labeling of genetically engineered food in urging everyone to contact President Obama right away and urge him to veto this anti-consumer legislation that is nothing but a giveaway to the corporate industrial food complex.

Vermont’s packed statehouse during one of many public hearings on the GMO Labeling bill. Only one person testified in opposition to the bill, that it wasn’t strong enough!

We still urge you to take a moment today to thank Senator Patrick Leahy, Senator Bernie Sanders, and Congressman Peter Welch for leading the fight for transparency in our food system, and for having Vermont’s back. This struggle is not over and we still need their leadership. We will keep you updated on next steps in Vermont and nationally.

To get the latest updates on the GMO Labeling campaign,follow the VT Right to Know GMOs Facebook page.

July 1st, 2016

In a late night vote on Thursday, the US Senate passed S. 764, a GMO labeling proposal put forward by Senator Stabenow (D-Mich) and Senator Roberts (R-Kan).

This bill would eliminate Vermont’s first-in-the-nation GMO labeling law, and delay any labeling for up to two years while the Secretary of Agriculture develops rules. Food manufacturers would be allowed to label GE products with words, pictures, or a digital code that consumers would have to scan with their smartphones, if they own one and have cell service inside their grocery store. This proposal has a number of substantial flaws and is strongly opposed by the Vermont Right to Know Coalition, Senator Leahy, Senator Sanders, Representative Welch, Governor Shumlin, and consumer and environmental groups around the country.

Andrea Stander, Executive Director of Rural Vermont, an advocacy group for small farmers, reacted to the vote, saying:

“Every Vermonter, and every American who cares about the food they eat and the democracy they live in, should be outraged by what the U.S. Senate just did. This bill is a corporate giveaway masquerading as a GMO labeling ‘compromise.’ Senate leadership has chosen corporate lobbyists over the 90% of Americans who support labeling. Without a single committee hearing, and allowing for no amendments, they’ve passed a bill so riddled with loopholes and delays, so unenforceable, that even the FDA has argued it may not lead to a single product being labeled. They should be ashamed.”

June 2016

Special interest forces announced a “compromise” on GMO Labeling last week. The bill is headed for a vote in the US Senate on Wednesday, July 6, 2016.  Touted as a mandatory, national GMO labeling program, this bill looks like a win for consumers.  Don’t be fooled!

The bill is opposed by every major consumer group that is working on the GMO Labeling issue, including Citizens for GMO Labeling, Consumers Union, Center for Food Safety, Organic Consumers Association and hundreds of others.  The bill includes loopholes and delays that mean it will likely never be implemented in a meaningful way.

If you don’t believe us, you should believe the Administration’s own Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  The FDA is no fan of GMO Labeling.  Despite this, they issued guidance to the US Senate Agriculture Committee that shows how flawed the current bill is, including the following critiques:

  • The definition of bioengineering in this bill is so ambiguous and narrow that it “will likely mean that many foods from GE sources will not be subject to this bill. For instance, oil made from GE soy would not have any genetic material in it. Likewise, starches and purified proteins would not be covered.”
  • The FDA further comments that it “may be difficult” for ANY GMO food to qualify for labeling under the bill in that it would have to be proven that a GMO product’s modification could not be achieved through conventional breeding or be found in nature – something near impossible to determine. This means most GMO foods would not be subject to mandatory labeling under this bill.

Roberts/Stabenow GMO Labeling bill is not a compromise AND not a step towards mandatory GMO Labeling.

It is an industry proposal, designed to thwart the will of the 90% of Americans who want to know what’s in their food.

 

 

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.