VT Businesses Call for Passage of VT GMO Labeling Legislation
February 26, 2014
Group calls the proposed law, good for consumers, the food industry, and the Vermont brand
Today, business leaders representing a broad cross section of Vermont’s food industry including suppliers, manufactures, and retailers, gathered at the Statehouse in Montpelier, VT to urge lawmakers to pass mandatory GMO labeling legislation, H.112. Representatives from Ben & Jerry’s, Two Guys in Vermont, New Chapter, Black River Produce, Healthy Living, Liz Lovely and VBSR, all called on the legislature to make Vermont a leader in food freedom and transparency.
The group noted that Vermonters have a reputation for taking food seriously. They identify with food, and are passionate about knowing where it comes from, and what’s in it. Vermonters want to shop their values, which is why GMO labeling is so important. The label serves as that link to making educated decision about what to purchase. H.112 would ensure that Vermonters are able to align their food purchases with their values.
Chris Miller, Activism Manager at Ben & Jerry’s said, “Food companies should be proud to tell consumers what’s in the products they are selling. And if they don’t want to share that information, then people should really wonder ‘why?” Ben & Jerry’s is in the process of labeling all of their products, which will be complete by mid-2014. Miller added, “we’ll label all of our products without effecting the price fans pay for a pint of Ben & Jerry’s.
Opponents of GMO labeling have suggested that H.112 would increase the cost of food for consumers. Jeff Weinstein, Founder of Vermont specialty food company Two Guys in Vermont and supporter of H.112 said, “food companies make changes to labels all the time without raising prices. New ingredients or recipes changes, marketing and branding changes, as well as an ever-changing regulatory landscape are just a few reasons we might make a change to our label. It’s not a big deal to label GMOs, minor label changes are just a cost of doing business”.
Non-GMO labeled food is one of the fastest growing trends in the food industry, and retailers nationally and in Vermont have been advocates on behalf of their shoppers for transparency in the food system. The national grocery chain Whole Foods Market announced that it will require labeling of all items sold in their stores by 2018.Here in Vermont, many food retailers are supporting their shoppers’ call for GMO labeling. Eli Lesser-Goldsmith of Healthy Living Market said, “What brought us around on the issue was one simple sentence-’people deserve to know what’s in their food.’ We have agreed with that since the day we started Healthy Living Market almost 30 years ago, and today we still believe in that”.
Over 200 Businesses Sign On in Support of Labeling
February 25, 2014
We wanted to take a moment to share with you how happy we are that over 200 businesses have signed our petition in support of GMO labeling. Despite the claim that some have made that labeling harms businesses, the list we have shows that producers, manufacturers, grocers, and advocacy organizations both in Vermont and outside the state have expressed overwhelming support for the passage of H.112.
Check out the ongoing list we’ve compiled of our supporters! Don’t see your favorite businesses on here? You can easily print our petition to bring to them, or ask them to sign on via our website! Printed petitions can be returned to us at VPIRG c/o Falko Schilling 141 Main St. Ste. 6 Montpelier, VT 05602.
[tab name="VT Producers/Manufacturers"]
Allen Brothers Farms
Back Roads Granola
Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream
Blue Meadow Farm
Boutin Family Farm
Bryn Meadow Farm
Carmen’s Baked Goods
Cedar Acres Organic Beef
Clear Brook Farm
Cold Hollow Cider Mill
Dancing Rock Farm
Deer Ridge Farm
Eagle’s Flight Farm
Earthwise Farm & Forest
Food Works Vermont
Four Springs Farm
Green Mountain Orchards
Hazen Monument Farm
Hidden Springs Maple
High Meadows Farm
High Ridge Meadows Farm
Hope Roots Farm
Jericho Settlers Farm
Kimball Brook Farm
LePage’s Rising Sun Farm
Lilac Ridge Farm
Long Wind Farm
Lovejoy Brook Farm
Luna Bleu Farm
Mack Hill Farm
Maple Wind Farm
Marble Rose Farm
Marijke’s Perennial Gardens Plus
McGrath Family Farm
Michelle’s Specialty Foods
Middlebury College Organic Farm
Mighty Food Farm
Mother Nature’s Garden Society
New Leaf CSA
New Village Farm
Not Your Ordinary Farm
Oliver Hill Farm
Pebble Brook Farm
Poultney Pure Organics
Raven Ridge Farm
Robb Family Farm
Singing River Farm
South Valley Farm
Sugar Mountain Farm
Surfing Veggie Farm
Sweet Tree Farm
Teeny Tiny Spice Co. of Vermont
The Last Resort Farm
The Skinny Pancake Montpelier
Timeless Wisdom Farm
Too Little Farm
Trukenbrod Mill & Bakery
Two Guys in Vermont
Valley Dream Farm
Vermont Natural Foods Company
Von Trapp Farmstead
Westminster Organics at Harlow Farm
Whetstone Ledges Farm
Wild Branch Mushrooms
Wild Carrot Farm
Wood’s Market Garden
[tab name="VT Businesses"]
Chelsea Green Publishing
Dixie Plumbing Specialities
Eat More Kale
Farm Resource Consulting Service
Floral Gates Nursery
Flowers by Olga
Good Medicine Tree
Guilford Solar Gardens
High Mowing Seeds
Labour of Love Landscaping
Magic Wheel Community Bike Shop
North End Butchers
Sue Irwin Transcription
Thistle Hill Pottery
Vermont Compost Company
Vermont Farm Tours
Vermont’s Local Banquet Magazine
Wisdom of the Herbs School
[tab name="Non-VT Businesses"]
Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps
Elliot Equine Services
Green Living Journal
New Forest Organic
Organic Valley Co-op[/tab]
[tab name="Non-VT Producers"]
Kona Biodynamic Farm
Point of View Farm
Slow Tractor Farm
Wild Ginger Farm
[/tab][tab name="VT Advocacy Orgs"]
Food Works Vermont
Friends of Burlington Gardens/Vermont Community Garden Network
Green Mountain Draft Horse Associaton
Institute for Social Ecology
Mad River Valley Localvore
Post Oi Solutions
Transition Town Montpelier
Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility
Vermont Public Health Association
[/tab][tab name="Non-VT Advocacy Orgs"]
CA Right to Know
Center for Food Safety
Food Democracy Now
National Organic Coalition
Organic Consumers Association
Organic Consumers Fund
[/tab][tab name="VT Grocers"]
Southshire Community Market
Brattleboro Food Co-op
Buffalo Mountain Co-op
City Market/Onion River Co-op
Deep Root Organic Co-op
Dorset Farmers Market
East Warren Community Market
Hanover Co-op Food Store
Hunger Mountain Co-op
Manchester Farmers Market
Maple Wind Farm
Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op
Mount Holly Farmers Market
Natural Provisions Market
Putney Food Co-op
Rutland Area Food Co-op
South End Market
South Royalton Market
Spice N’ Nice Natural Foods
Springfield Food Co-op
St. J Food Co-op
Stone Valley Community Market
Sweet Clover Market
Upper Valley Food Co-op
Westmore Farmers Market
White River Co-op
Willoughby Lake Farmers & Artisans Market
[/tab][tab name="Non-VT Grocers"]
New Morning Natural Foods
Lessons from New Hampshire
February 11, 2014
In the weeks leading up to the NH House’s decision, there was an incredible amount of opposition to the bill originating from out-of-state lobbyists including the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), biotech corporations like Monsanto, and other food industry allies. At a recent House hearing, for example, industry reps showed up at the door, handing out anti-labeling propaganda that ranged from not telling the whole truth (such as the op-ed written by the CEO of the New Hampshire Grocers Assocation, whose title was conveniently omitted from the handout) to outright lying. One of their deceptive arguments was anchored on the supposed harm to local industries such as the Granite State Brewers Association and the New Hampshire Lodging and Restaurant Association, who incidentally would be exempt from the bill and thus not impacted by its passing. These arguments were also repeated in a full-page advertisement taken out in local newspapers.
These are similar tactics to those employed in the GMA’s successful fight against labeling in Washington and California, but it’s not all they have in their bag of tricks. The Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson, for example, is currently suing the GMA for violating the state’s campaign disclosure laws, referencing its failure to reveal the corporate sources of $11 million in campaign funds. GMA’s response? To sue the state of Washington in return and file a civil rights claim against them.
The point is that even though Vermont hasn’t seen much in the way of industry misinformation tactics, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t heading our way. They’re already in the neighborhood, so to speak. We all need to pay attention to their strategy so that when we see it in our state, we’re better prepared to respond to it. Expose the scare-tactic arguments for the falsities they are. Bring to light the legal battles they are finding themselves in due to their contempt for local campaign disclosure laws. Mount a counter-argument against their current strategy of suggesting a federal voluntary labeling scheme in place of the state-by-state mandatory labeling approach. They may be beter funded but with your help, we can be better organized.
Senate Agriculture Committee Approves GMO Labeling Bill 4-1
February 7, 2014
Following a packed public hearing in the House Chamber the night before, the members of the Senate Agriculture Committee met this morning 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. Clearly impressed and even moved by the out-pouring of passionate, well-informed testimony in favor of the bill at the public hearing (no one spoke against GMO labeling) the Committee first removed two alternative “trigger” clauses they had been considering over the past few days. They then edited the House version of the effective date for the bill making it simply July 1, 2015. “It is a strong vote for state autonomy and Vermonters’ clear indication that they want this information due to their environmental and health concerns.” said Sen. David Zuckerman following the vote. Although Sen. Norm McAllister cast the lone vote against the bill, he did support removing the trigger language in a preliminary vote. All members of the Committee expressed their appreciation for the Vermonters who attended the Public Hearing and in turn the VT Right to Know advocates, who were in the committee room for the vote, thanked the members of the Committee for their diligent work and for holding the public hearing. Falko Schilling, Consumer Protection Advocate for VPIRG and a partner in the VT Right to Know Coalition said “Last night’s public hearing made clear what we already knew, the vast majority of Vermonters support this bill and want to see GMO foods labeled. The Agriculture Committee has spent the last month putting in long hours making this bill as strong as possible and we are extremely pleased with the result of their work.” The bill will now be referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee where there will be further debate about its merits most likely beginning some time after the Town Meeting week break. In the meantime, stay posted for ways you can help move the bill forward. Thank you to all those who made it to the hearing last night, and all our supporters throughout Vermont!
The People Have Spoken: Pass H.112 Without a Trigger!
February 7, 2014
Approximately 250 citizens from all over Vermont converged on the State House Thursday night to testify in front of the Senate Agriculture and Judiciary Committees in support of H.112. Reflecting the widespread support of the bill in Vermont, every single person testifying, about 80 people, spoke in support of labeling GMOs.
The message was clear and straightforward. “It’s about choice,” said testifier Nova Kim, “I and other Vermonters simply want to be able to choose.” This sentiment was echoed many times over throughout the night, with many others referencing the potential role of GMO crops in the increasing prevalence of food allergies and other health problems – a role we may never understand without proper labeling. “Is it GMOs [causing the problems] or is it not?” asked Kelly Cummings, “I want to know the answer to this question.”
Many other testifiers alluded to other products that have been historically touted as safe, then later found to have serious health implications – products like tobacco, asbestos, DDT, dioxin, and bovine growth hormones. Li Shen referenced several studies showing the impact GMO feed had on animals in controlled experiments, citing significant liver and pancreas damage. In addition to the human impact, several testifiers spoke to the environmental impact of GMO crops. Elizabeth Howard, for example, a scientist who studies monarch butterflies, noted the serious decline in the butterfly population due to increased spraying of Roundup on GMO crops in the mid-west. She wants to know what agricultural methods she’s supporting when she goes to the grocery store.
The trigger clause was on the minds of the people as well, with many testifiers saying the current bill was “too weak,” and that the trigger clause needed to go. Many said they did not want to wait for other states to decide if Vermont labeled GMOs. “Giving New Hampshire the power to determine whether the Vermont law goes into effect is unacceptable,” said Stuart Blood of Thetford Center, “I don’t have a representative in the New Hampshire House and I don’t have a New Hampshire Senator. What’s at stake is not just my right to know what’s in my food, but there’s also a question of whether I live in a democratic state.”
It was clear that for many citizens attending, the issue was as much one about democracy as it was about labeling. They called on the legislature to resist the threats of corporate interests, and instead protect the people. Michelle Robins of Williston reminded the Senators that Vermont was the first in the nation to “ban fracking, and to abolish slavery, to legalize gay marriage, and to label CFLs,” and urged the legislature to listen to their constituents and lead the nation on GMO labeling as well.
Emotions ran high in the State House last night, and people could barely contain their excitement and support after many testifiers spoke or sang. Midway through the event Shane Bowley and Janice Russotti brought their guitar up to the Senators and sang an original song about labeling GMOs (listen to the mp3 below!), a tribute to the late Pete Seeger and his faith that songs can change the world.
Thank you to everyone who came out and showed their support! Stay tuned for the next steps in this campaign – your continued activism is essential!
Live Stream of GMO Labeling Public Hearing
February 6, 2014
Not able to make it to the State House for tonight’s public hearing? You can still listen in from home to hear your fellow Vermonters testify in support of H.112! Vermont Public Radio is providing online streaming of the event.
The live stream should be available after 5:30pm, with the actual hearing beginning at 6:00. To listen, click here to open up the stream in your browser window. To open the stream in a separate program like iTunes or Windows Media Player, you can go to VPR’s Online Stream page, scroll down and click on “Vermont House”
Buses, Carpool, Housing Available for Thursday’s Public Hearing
February 4, 2014
Want to come to the public hearing this Thursday night but either live too far away or don’t want to drive? Need a place to stay in town after the event? We can help! For those of you living near Bennington, Manchester, Sharon, Wilder, Newport, or St. Johnsbury, we have booked two charter buses! One will leave from Bennington at 2:00pm, stop in Manchester, Wilder and Sharon, then arrive in Montpelier around 5:00pm. The other bus will leave from Newport at 3:00pm, make a stop in St. Johnsbury around 3:45pm, and arrive in Montpelier around 5:00pm. (See details below.)
Once you arrive at the State House, come meet us in Room 11. We hope to see you all on Thursday! Stay tuned for other updates in preparation for the event!
THE SOUTHWEST BUS: Bennington/Wilder/Sharon Bus Details:
- Bennington (Stop #1): We are asking everyone to meet at Spice N’ Nice Natural Foods (223 North St. in Bennington)by 1:45pm at the latest. Because there isn’t room for the bus in the Spice N’ Nice parking lot, everyone will need to walk over to the Goodwill parking lot (215 North St.) to board the bus. The bus will leave from the Goodwill parking lot at 2:00pm.
- Manchester (Stop #2): We are using Zoey’s Double Hex restaurant (just off Route 7 at 1614 Depot St./Route 11) as the Manchester bus pick-up point. Anyone taking this bus will need to be in the Zoey’s parking lot by 2:20pm — please carpool if possible and park in the back of the lot. The bus will leave at 2:30.
- Wilder (Stop #3): The bus will stop at the Park & Ride on Rte 5 in Wilder, VT. Be ready to board at 3:30.
- Sharon (Stop #4): The bus will stop at the Sharon Trading Post in Sharon, VT located on the corner of Rte.132 and Rte.14, off exit 2 on I-89 in Sharon. Please park at the park & ride (diagonally across the street ) and walk over to the Trading Post. NO parking at the Trading Post please! Be ready to board at 3:50 on the Rte.132 side of the parking lot away from the gas pumps.
THE NORTHEAST BUS: Newport/St. J Bus Details:
- Newport (Stop #1): We are asking everyone to arrive at Newport Natural Market and Cafe (194 Main St. in Newport) by 2:45pm at the latest. The bus will leave from Newport Natural Market at 3:00pm.
- St. Johnsbury (Stop #2): The bus will make a stop at St. J Food Co-op (490 Portland St. in St. J) on the way to Montpelier. Please arrive at St. J Food Co-op by 3:30 at the latest. The bus will leave from St. J Food Co-op at 3:45pm.
The Trigger Trap: Will Vermont Lawmakers Let Industry Strangle Another GMO Labeling Law?
February 3, 2014
Vermont has an opportunity to be the first state to pass a common sense labeling law that is not dependent on other states. This article, published in Common Dreams on February 5, 2014 was written by Will Allen and Kate Duesterberg, co-managers of Cedar Circle Farm and members of the Right To Know Coalition.
From spending millions to defeat ballot initiatives, to floating a voluntary federal labeling “solution,” to threatening to sue any state, including Vermont, if it passes a GMO labeling law, the biotech and junk food industries are determined to keep labels off of foods that contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
One of their strategies designed to thwart state GMO labeling laws involves convincing normally progressive state lawmakers to add a “trigger” clause to their state bills. A trigger adds an additional condition to a bill, a condition that must be met before the law can be enacted. The trigger clause appeals to state lawmakers who want to shield their states from the financial burden of millions of dollars in legal costs, should industry follow through on threats to sue.
The trigger strategy has been employed successfully so far in Maine and Connecticut. Will Vermont be the next to fall into the trigger trap? Or will Vermont senators and the Governor stand up for their constituents by standing up to industry?
In 2013, Connecticut and Maine passed GMO labeling bills. Both those laws are in limbo, where they will remain until four neighboring states with a combined population of 20 million inhabitants pass similar labeling bills. Connecticut and Maine lawmakers justified the triggers as a strategy to spread out the legal liability in the event of industry lawsuits.
But industry activists, who thought they’d won the labeling battle only to realize they’d gained only a pyrrhic victory, are frustrated. In Vermont, where more than 90 percent of the citizens are in favor of a mandatory GMO labeling law, activists hope their lawmakers will take the lead, by passing the first clean, trigger-less GMO labeling law.
Vermont’s H.112 Can Withstand Legal Challenge
Legal scholars and the Vermont Attorney General’s office have determined that H.112 is well-researched, well-written and fully defensible in court.
Of course, industry has told every lie in the book, and pulled every trick out of its hat, to convince state lawmakers otherwise. Just as they lied to voters in California and Washington State, where GMO labeling initiatives were narrowly defeated, representatives from the Biotechnology Industry Organization testified in Vermont that the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) had performed health and safety tests on GMO crops, and found them to be safe.
That testimony was refuted by Michael Hansen, senior scientist at the Consumers Union, who stated that the FDA has never performed health or safety testing on any GMO crop. In fact, the only tests performed on GMO crops, for human food and animal feed, were those done by biotech companies or researchers working under contract for those companies. Neither the U.S. government nor independent researchers have been permitted to conduct the long-term multi-generational feeding studies that are usually required before a new product is released. Why? Because GMO seed manufacturers won’t release their proprietary seeds for testing.
In fact, the only thing most U.S. consumers know about the safety or danger of these products is what the genetic manipulators tell us.
Of course the genetic engineers have told us, and will continue to tell us that their products are safe—just like the tobacco corporations assured us for decades that their products were safe.
But consumers are wising up, thanks to the work of brave researchers in Europe and Asia who have risked their careers to conduct short and long-term studies of GMO food and animal feed. The results of these independent tests, and the widespread use of the precautionary principle, prompted 64 countries—but not the U.S.—to label GMO products to protect their citizens.
Time to Apply the ‘Precautionary Principle’ to GMOs
The precautionary principle holds that when an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships have not yet been fully established scientifically.
In the past, by refusing to employ the precautionary principle, the FDA allowed the release of arsenic, DDT, synthetic nitrogen fertilizer, and enumerable agricultural toxins into the marketplace. Humans, birds, amphibians, and the environment have all suffered from the FDA’s and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) refusal to adopt the precautionary principle or adequately test these products.
When it comes to our food, shouldn’t we take every precaution to avoid releasing products that haven’t been adequately tested for health and safety, into the marketplace?
And yet, we don’t. In the case of GMOs, the precautionary principle comes into play because preliminary results from independent researchers in the European Union and Asia found kidney and liver tumors, and intestinal abnormalities. In spite of these findings, the corporations making the products have consistently refused to let government and independent U.S. researchers conduct trials of their products.
In the U.S., the precautionary principle is rejected by corporations and government regulators who employ much more corporate-friendly “standards.” Those “standards,” known as quantitative risk assessments and cost-benefit analyses, are more like sliding scales than standards. This system determines that certain chemically produced substances make some people sick and kill other victims. This risk of illness and death is contrasted with the benefits to farmers and the food supply. In this risk-benefit system, the death of a certain number of people is evaluated as an acceptable risk in order to get the benefit of more food or animal feed by using toxic pesticides, fertilizers or GMOs.
If a pesticide causes cancer in laboratory animals, the EPA makes the calculation and the tolerance is set so that the estimated exposure will be less than the amount calculated to cause one extra cancer case per million people. This is the level that EPA calls a “negligible risk.” The EPA is not interpreting this standard strictly; however, estimated cancer risks that are almost double that level are frequently acceptable. Economic benefits have been used to justify cancer risks that are up to 10 times higher. Instead of standards, critics accuse the U.S. of employing “risk roulette.”
Consumers Want Real Laws, not ‘Triggers’
Opinion polls have shown repeatedly that consumers want GMOs labeled. As the struggle over labeling is waged, in one form or another, in at least 26 states, the trigger becomes one of the biotech and food industry’s most effective tools.
But consumers know what the trigger strategy really is—just another way to put off the day when we have the right to know what is in our food. It is intended to protect state funds. But it’s really just another way for state legislators to avoid direct confrontation with corporate bullies.
Isn’t it time lawmakers stand up for their constituents, and stand up to industry? Let Monsanto and the Grocery Manufacturers sue. Let’s all encourage Vermont to take the lead, and pass a clean, trigger-less law. If you live outside Vermont, please visit http://www.vtrighttoknowgmos.org/ to see how you can help. If you’re a Vermonter, please contact your state lawmaker today and ask him or her to support H.112.
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