Author Archive: Falko Schilling

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Neil Young pledges $100,000 to help Vermont Label GMOs

When Neil Young’s Rebel Content Tour came to Vermont they wanted to do more than just rock, they wanted to make sure Vermonters will know if their food is genetically engineered. In a backstage pre-show press conference Young joined Governor Peter Shumlin to promote Vermont’s GMO Food Labeling law and pledged $100,000 to the VT Food Fight Fund to support the law’s implementation and defense.

In 2014 Vermont passed the first in the nation no-strings-attached GMO labeling law and was almost immediately sued by a consortium of corporate special interests. Neil Young, a big supporter of consumers’ right to know, then announced that he would be boycotting Starbucks because of their membership in the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the lead trade group suing the state.

In a Rolling Stone interview Young was quoted saying, “There’s much more at stake here than just whether GMO foods will be labeled in a single U.S. state. Vermont is the very first state in the U.S. to require labeling. Dozens of other states have said that they will follow this path – in order to encourage this, we need to ensure that Vermont’s law stands strong.”

Young threw even more support behind Vermont’s labeling effort in a song on his new album The Monsanto Years titled “A Rock Star Bucks A Coffee Shop.” In the song, Young talks about Starbucks and the VT lawsuit singing, “When the people of Vermont wanted to label food with GMOs/They sued the state of Vermont to overturn the people’s will.”

When Young arrived in Vermont he coordinated with the governor and members of the Vermont Right to Know Coalition to set up a special press conference before he took to the stage. Governor
Shumlin thanked the thousands who had helped pass the labeling law before appealing for support for the state’s efforts to defend the law.

When Young took the podium he spoke simply saying, “I’m just a rocker who believes people should know what they’re eating.” He then pledged $100,000 from the profits of his Vermont show to the Food Fight Fund, which supports the defense and implementation of Vermont’s labeling law.

Later in the evening the concert audience erupted with cheers and applause when Young shouted from the stage “Vermont — standing up where other states are laying down.” The set then continued with energized renditions of selections from his full catalog as well as The Monsanto Years. The evening was capped with a special rendition of “Moonlight in Vermont” performed by Lukas Nelson, son of Willie Nelson.

Vermont continues its legal battle as it prepares to respond to the industrial food manufacturers’ legal strategy to stop the labeling law from going in to place. Make sure to check back for the latest on the campaign, and please join Neil in donating to the Food Fight Fund by clicking here.

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A Big Win for Your Right to Know

On Monday Judge Christina Reiss rejected a motion from industrial food companies asking Vermont to stop implementation of the state’s GMO labeling law. The judge also dismissed a number of the plaintiffs’ claims including assertions that the law violates the commerce clause and was expressly preempted by federal law.

Possibly the most important aspect of the ruling is that the law’s requirement that GMOs be labeled is constitutional under the First Amendment. The court declared “Because the State has established that Act 120’s GE disclosure requirement is reasonably related to the State’s substantial interests, under Zauderer, Act 120’s GE disclosure requirement is constitutional.”

Laura Murphy of the ENRLC commented on the case, saying “Judge Reiss’ 84 page ruling affirms that Vermont’s law to require labeling of GE foods is on firm legal ground. The clinic is proud to be playing a role in this important issue. We believe in this law. Vermont had really good reasons for passing it, and putting factual information on labels is a great way to convey information to consumers.” VPIRG and the Center for Food Safety (CFS) are Amici in the case represented by counsel from the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic at Vermont Law School (ENRLC) and co-counsel CFS. As Amici, these organizations have been litigating in defense of the law since June of 2014.

“The GMO food giants aren’t used to losing, but they were just knocked on their collective keister by the state of Vermont,” said VPIRG Executive Director Paul Burns. “Consumers across the country will no doubt take notice.”

Vermont’s first in the nation GMO labeling law was passed overwhelmingly by the legislature last year, and signed by Governor Shumlin last May. Passage of the law was supported by the work of the Vermont Right to Know GMOs coalition spearheaded by Cedar Circle Farm, the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont (NOFA-VT), Rural Vermont, and VPIRG.

Andrea Stander, Executive Director of Rural Vermont noted “This decision by the federal court is a strong validation of the three long years that Vermonters worked tirelessly to pass the GMO Food Labeling Bill. We are one step closer to securing our right to know if GMOs are in our food.”

“As Attorney General Sorrell has said, Monday’s ruling upheld the heart and soul of Vermont’s GMO labeling law,” said Madison Monty of NOFA-VT. ”The court’s findings have affirmed the solid legal standing of Act 120, and we are excited to have reached this important landmark on the road to the right to know.”

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. Though the court found that plaintiffs are not likely to succeed in blocking the GMO disclosure requirement, the ruling indicated that the prohibition on using the word “natural” will face an uphill battle. The law is set to go into effect on July 1st 2016. Read the full text of the decision and stay tuned here for future updates on the case.

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Public Hearing on GMO Labeling Rules Feb. 4th

We have hit an important step in the process of labeling genetically engineered foods in Vermont. On Wednesday, February 4th from 5:00-6:00pm at the State House in Montpelier, the Attorney General’s Office will hold the final public hearing on the proposed rules for enforcing Vermont’s GMO labeling law.

The Attorney General’s Office has been charged with proposing how the law will be implemented, and they want to hear your thoughts. This is your chance to comment in person, but if you cannot make it you can read the rule and send in your comments electronically.

The rule provides more details about how Vermont’s law will take effect, including the size and placement of the labels. Take a few minutes to read the rule, and if you have thoughts come out to the public hearing February 4th, or use our handy web form send in your comments.

We are still in the middle of the legal battle to make sure that corporate interests don’t stop the state from giving consumers the information they deserve. We will keep you updated as we learn more about the case, but in the meantime you can have your say and help the state move forward towards labeling GMO foods.

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Hearings Begin on Vermont’s GMO Labeling Law

Yesterday the first oral arguments were heard in GMA v. Sorrell, the case against Vermont’s landmark GMO labeling law. Earlier this year the Grocery Manufacturers Association filed suit against the State of Vermont for passing Act 120, the nation’s first no-strings-attached GMO labeling law. The arguments focused on the State’s Motion to Dismiss and the Plaintiff’s Motion for a Preliminary Injunction. The arguments addressed the issues at play in the suit including federal preemption, the Commerce Clause, and the First Amendment.

Judge Reiss gave both sides as much time as they needed to lay out their arguments and to answer questions the Judge had developed while reviewing the briefs from both parties. No final ruling was issued on either the Motion to Dismiss or the Preliminary Injunction, though the Judge did rule against a motion to exclude the most recent amicus brief filed by VPIRG the Center for Food Safety, with co-counsel at the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic. A final ruling on the Motion to Dismiss and the Motion for a Preliminary Injunction could come in the next few months.

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Our Day in Court

On Wednesday January 7th the Federal District Court in Burlington will be hearing 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. This is a major step in deciding if Vermonters have the right to know what is in the food they eat and feed their families.

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

For those who would like to see the oral arguments, this is your chance. The arguments will be held in Room 542 of the Federal Courthouse in Burlington.  They will begin at 9:30 and may continue for a couple hours. If you want to attend, make sure to bring your ID, and arrive a bit early if you want to be sure to get a seat. Space in the court room will be limited, and all spectators need to be quiet and respectful while the court is in session.

Get directions to the Court House.

After the oral arguments, the Judge will deliberate and issue a decision, probably within the next few months. We will make sure to provide updates after the hearing for those who cannot attend. This is an exciting moment in our struggle to label GMO foods, and it reminds us how far we have come in the last three years. 

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Vermont Right to Know Goes to Washington

On Wednesday December 10th approximately 700 protesters from 22 states descended on Washington D.C. to protest a hearing on HR.4432 otherwise known as the DARK Act (Denying American’s Right to Know Act). The Act aims to preempt and overturn Vermont’s first in the nation GMO labeling law without creating a national mandatory labeling standard. On hand at the rally were members of the Vermont Right to Know Leadership team Will Allen and Cat Buxton, as well as Rep. Kate Webb, one of the lead sponsors of Vermont’s labeling law. Despite waiting for hours to enter the hearing room the protesters were turned away when the chambers were filled. The crowd then moved to rally on the lawn of the Rayburn office building.

Will Allen, manager of Cedar Circle Farm in East Thetford spoke at the rally, and commented afterward saying “There were people here from all over the country, two buses came from Michigan, there were also people from Indiana, Florida and Maine. Everyone who spoke was so eloquent and passionate about their right to know what is in their food. I was really impressed by Jonathan Emord, who spoke fervently about the Pompeo bill being an assault on states’ rights and the fundamental right of people to know what is in the food they are eating.” Emord, a nationally known attorney, who specializes in Constitutional issues, provided written testimony to the Vermont Legislature supporting the legal standing of the Vermont labeling law.

Inside the hearing room Rep. Webb testified on behalf of Vermonters and the state’s labeling law. Rep. Webb said, “I was asked a number of questions by members of the Sub-Committee about Vermont’s GMO Food Labeling bill that primarily focused on the provision that prohibits the use of the term “natural” in the labeling of foods that are genetically engineered. Because the sub-committee’s focus is on health they didn’t address the broad issues of environmental impacts and concerns of religious groups that VT’s bill covers.” Rep. Webb reported that she also met with Congressman Welch and with staff from Senator Leahy’s office while in DC. All of Vermont’s federal delegation is strongly supportive of states’ rights to require labeling of GMO food and they are co-sponsors of federal legislation to require mandatory labeling. Rep. Webb said, “There is some hope among the Vermont delegation that the Pompeo bill, the ‘DARK Act,’ will not get to see the light of day.”

 

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Help Stop the DARK Act

Our elected officials in Washington are all strong supporters of a consumer’s right to know what is in their food. We need them to help us defeat HR.4432, otherwise known as the DARK (Deny Americans the Right to Know) Act. The Act would wipe out Vermont’s first in the nation GMO labeling law, and prohibit any mandatory labeling of GMO foods in the US. This bill is a direct attack on the Vermont and our citizens who have clearly stated that we have the right to know what is in the food we eat and feed our families.

The U.S. House of Representatives will be holding hearings on the DARK Act on December 10th, and we want to you let our elected officials know that they have our support in fighting for a consumer’s right to know.

Call our elected officials on December 10th at the numbers below and tell them “Thank you for being a strong supporter of mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods. Right now the House of Representatives is debating HR.4432, a bill that would eliminate Vermont’s GMO labeling law. I ask you do everything in your power to make sure that this bill is not passed, and to protect Vermonters’ ability to make informed decisions about the food they eat and fee their families.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders
202-224-5141

Sen. Patrick Leahy
202-224-4242

Rep. Peter Welch
202-225-4115

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GMO Labeling Headed for a Recount in Oregon

Final tallies for Oregon’s Measure 92 to label genetically engineered foods have “Yes on 92” behind by a mere 809 votes, triggering an automatic recount. Many news sources declared measure 92 dead earlier this month, but the hard work and dedication of activists and organizers across the state to ensure that thousands of ballots are properly counted has closed the gap to 809 votes. The final difference between the two sides is less than 0.1% of the more than 1,500,000 votes cast. Under Oregon election law, races or ballot measures within a 0.2% margin trigger an automatic recount paid for by the state.

Oregon’s GMO labeling measure faced unprecedented spending by major biotech and industrial scale food producers in opposition to labeling. Companies like Monsanto, Pepsi, Coke and other members of the Grocery Manufacturers Association spent millions on advertising to convince the voters of Oregon to reject Measure 92. If Measure 92 eventually prevails, it will make Oregon the first state to pass a GMO labeling law through the ballot initiative process.

For the latest on the recount, and to find ways to help visit oregonrighttoknow.org

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Vermont’s GMO Legal Battle Heats up

Last Week the Attorney General’s office and three outside groups, including VPIRG, filed briefs in federal court asking the judge to throw out a food industry lawsuit that aims to stop the implementation of Vermont’s first in the nation GMO labeling law. These filings were made in response to a request for a preliminary injunction filed by the plaintiffs earlier this year.

The major issues discussed in these filings revolve around whether or not the State has the ability to require manufacturers to label products produced with genetic engineering. The plaintiffs have claimed Vermont’s law compels commercial speech in violation of the First Amendment, while the State claims that the legislature was well within their power to require this information.

Oral Arguments on the competing motions are expected as early as mid-December, with a decision from the judge to follow.

To read the filings click the link below, or you can visit the Attorney General’s webpage for all filings in the case so far.

Attorney General’s Filing (Supporting documents can be found here)
VPIRG and CLF Amicus Brief
Free Speech for People Amicus Brief
Vermont Community Law Center Amicus Brief
All filings in the case to date.

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Now Available: Dr. Vandana Shiva Vermont Talk Videos

The Right to Know Coalition would like to thank anyone who was able to make it so much for joining us for Vandana Shiva’s inspiring talks! It was incredible to have the opportunity to hear in person from one of the world’s most prominent and dedicated activists on the issue of genetically engineered food and its impact on our global food supply and the sovereignty of farmers around the world.

If you didn’t catch her motivating words, or just want to revisit them, video’s of both of Dr. Shiva’s presentations are now online for you to watch and share:

CLICK HERE to see or share Dr. Shiva’s Burlington presentation.

CLICK HERE to watch her Vermont Law School presentation.

All the members of the VPIRG, Rural Vermont, NOFA-VT and Cedar Circle Farm, were gratified and humbled by Dr. Shiva’s assessment that our grassroots victory here in Vermont has great significance for other activists around the world. That means no pause in our work to ensure that our GMO Food Labeling law is implemented on schedule and true to the legislative intent of giving Vermonters the right to know what is in their food. It also means that we have to martial the legal expertise and financial support to defend our law from the corporate interests that seek to strike it down.