Category Archive: News & Updates

Thanks to all our supporters!

Together, we changed the food system!

As you may have heard within the last week, 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 all of us at the Vermont Right to Know GMOs team!

 

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, 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

 

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Pres. Obama: veto the sham GMO labeling bill!

The U.S. Senate voted late last Thursday night in favor of a sham GMO labeling bill that will eliminate Vermont’s genetically engineered food and seed labeling laws.

The Senate bill will leave a significant number of GE products unlabeled due to a definition of “bioengineered food” that even the FDA has called into question. Companies will also be able to opt out of clear accessible on-package labeling by using digital “QR” codes that will be unreadable by approximately half of rural and low income Americans without access to smartphones or cell service. Beyond all of this, there are no penalties for lack of compliance, and no authority to recall products that are not properly labeled.

Take a minute and use our online action form to ask President Obama to veto this bill!

The bill passed by the Senate is nothing but an industry giveaway, and we need to call on President Obama to veto it if it reaches his desk.

The bill will now head to the House of Representatives where VT Congressman Peter Welch has pledged to do everything he can to try and defeat it. We don’t know what will happen in the House, and that’s why we’re asking you to write to the President urging him to veto the Roberts-Stabenow bill or any other sham GMO Labeling bill if it reaches his desk.

In 2007, as a presidential candidate, then-Senator Obama said “…we’ll let folks know if their food has been genetically modified because Americans should know what they are buying.” Now it is time for the President to live up to his campaign promise and veto this legislation aimed at keeping consumers in the dark about what is in the food they eat and feed their families.

With our allies across the country we have a goal of sending a million messages to the President. 

Please take a minute and contact the White House today!

 

From the Center for Food Safety:

FDA strongly criticizes Stabenow-Roberts draft GMO labeling bill 

Memo on the discriminatory nature of QR codes and the Dark Act 

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VT Right to Know GMOs denounces Senate passage of “compromise” GMO labeling bill

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.”

NOFA Vermont Policy Advisor Maddie Monty responded to last night’s outcome, saying, “We are extremely proud of Senator Leahy and Senator Sanders who were steadfast in defending and upholding the will of the people on the Senate floor last night. Unfortunately, corporate food and agribusiness interests have once again outweighed the needs of the American people in Washington. While we are outraged and disappointed by last night’s vote, we will remain vigilant in urging the House of Representatives and President Obama to stand with the people and reject this disgraceful, anti-consumer legislation.”

VPIRG Consumer and Environmental Advocate Falko Schilling commented on yesterday’s vote saying: “It’s extremely disappointing to see the Senate vote in support of this sham labeling proposal. This bill is nothing but a corporate giveaway aimed at keeping consumers in the dark about what’s in their food. We urge the House of Representatives and the President to reject the Stabenow-Roberts proposal. We also want to thank our congressional delegation for their strong support for a consumer’s right to know.”

 

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Vermont’s GMO labeling law is live!

On Friday the Vermont Right to Know GMOs coalition joined Governor Shumlin, Senators Sanders and Leahy, Representative Welch, and supporters from around the country in celebrating Vermont’s first-in-the-nation GMO labeling law taking effect!

The celebration took place on the State House lawn, where Governor Shumlin signed the bill into law a little over two years ago. Since the law’s passage, we have been successful in defending the law against legal challenges, and manufacturers such as Kraft, General Mills, Pepsi and Campbell’s have decided to label genetically engineered products around the country.

“Today’s celebration shows once again that Vermont is a place where democracy works. 90% of Americans have consistently asked for labels on genetically engineered food and it took our brave state to step up and put the people’s interests over special interests. Whatever happens going forward everyone who helped make history today should be incredibly proud,” said VPIRG Consumer and Environmental Advocate Falko Schilling. “Right now consumers across the country are seeing labels on genetically engineered food thanks to the work that we did here.”

State Senator David Zuckerman, a long-time advocate of labeling, commented on the event saying, “Today is a great day for grassroots organizing in Vermont.  Thousands of individuals from across Vermont worked together to pass this legislation.  I am proud to have been a part of that effort in my role in the Senate, but the success for this rests on the shoulders of many who care about transparency in our food.”

“The enactment of Vermont’s GE food labeling law represents a major step forward in food system transparency. We are grateful to everyone in Vermont and beyond who helped to make Act 120 a reality and grateful to our Congressional delegates who continue to fight against efforts in Washington to deny Americans the right to information they need about their food,” said NOFA VT Policy Advisor Maddie Monty.

The celebration took place under the shadow of looming federal legislation proposed by Senators Roberts (R-Kan) and Stabenow (D- Mich) aimed at eliminating Vermont’s law and replacing it with a national standard that does not require on-package disclosure, does not have penalties for failure to label, and would exclude a significant portion of genetically engineered products from labeling requirements.

“This is a bittersweet day,” commented Rural Vermont Executive Director Andrea Stander. “It is thrilling to gather once again with so many of the people who worked SO hard to make Vermont’s GMO Labeling law a reality. Rural Vermont has worked tirelessly on this issue for more than twenty years.  We are not surprised and we are outraged that our own Congress continues to work to ignore the concerns and thwart the needs of the people they were elected to represent. This is NOT what democracy looks like and we will never give up the right to know how our food is produced.”

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“Our small state has been a pioneer in pushing vigorously for the rights of consumers to know what’s in their food. Our labeling law is set to take effect on July 1. It appears Congress has struck a deal that would preempt our law and replace it with a flawed national labeling standard.  While in concept a national standard makes sense, I have deep concerns with the provisions in this legislation,” said Governor Shumlin. “I’ll be working with Sen. Leahy, Sen. Sanders, and Rep. Welch in the coming days to see if we can remedy the serious defects in this national legislation. If we cannot, this legislation should not become law and I will oppose it.”

On Wednesday night the Senate held a preliminary vote to limit debate on the proposal, where Senator Leahy led a floor fight in opposition arguing, “Vermonters want to make informed decisions for their families and with their limited grocery budgets.  We acknowledge that powerful interests are allied against Vermont’s law and against the nation’s consumers.  That has been a fact from the beginning.  The proposal released last week does not respect the work that Vermont has painstakingly done in this space, and this Vermonter will not – cannot – support it.  Vermonters deserve better.  And so do all Americans.”

Senator Sanders voiced strong opposition to the proposal saying, “GMO labeling exists in dozens of countries around the world. It is not controversial. Already major food companies in our country have begun labeling their products. People have a right to know what is in the food they eat. I am going to do everything I can to defeat this legislation.”

In a statement, Representative Welch joined his Senate colleagues in criticizing the bill saying, “The so-called GMO labeling compromise reached in the Senate is, in a word, stupid.”

Congress will reconvene after the Independence Day holiday and a final Senate vote is expected as early as next week. If the proposal passes the Senate it will need to be approved by the House before being sent to the President’s desk. In the meantime food manufacturers will continue to label genetically engineered food products for retail sale in Vermont.

The VT Right to Know coalition has countless organizations, businesses, individuals, and families in Vermont and across the country (and out of the country!) to thank for their hard work and dedication over the years – THANK YOU ALL!

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A GMO labeling law that doesn’t require labels? No thanks!

On Thursday, two US Senators – Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Pat Roberts (R-KS) -  announced that they had reached a deal on a national GMO labeling bill that would preempt Vermont’s labeling law set to go into effect on July 1st.

This bill would delay labeling for up to two years while the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture develops rules for the labeling of genetically engineered foods. The Secretary would be charged with developing three options of disclosure including a plain language label, a symbol, and electronic or digital links accompanied by the wording “scan here for more food information”.

This proposal has a number of substantial flaws and that is why Vermont Right to Know GMOs, Senator Bernie Sanders, Governor Shumlin, and consumer and environmental groups from around the country have unified in opposition to the Stabenow Roberts bill. VPIRG Consumer and Environmental Advocate Falko Schilling commented on the proposal saying,

“Allowing companies to opt out of on package disclosure is just another industry giveaway aimed at keeping consumers in the dark about what is in their food. A national labeling law that doesn’t require on package labels just doesn’t pass the straight face test.”

Under the bill there are no penalties for lack of compliance, and numerous avenues for big food to negatively influence what the final requirements will look like.

Vermont’s two senators could play a vital role in stopping this bill from moving forward. Yesterday, Sen. Bernie Sanders had this to say about the bill: “I am going to do everything I can to defeat this legislation.” Sen. Sanders has acted by putting a “hold” on the bill, which means that at least 60 votes will be needed to pass it out of the Senate. Sen. Pat Leahy has also been a consistent champion of a consumer’s right to know. Yesterday, he made clear that he has concerns about the bill and invited Vermonters to “share their thoughts with him about this new proposal.”

Governor Peter Shumlin has also come out in opposition to the proposal saying, “I’ll be working with Sen. Leahy, Sen. Sanders, and Rep. Welch in the coming days to see if we can remedy the serious defects in this national legislation. If we cannot, this legislation should not become law and I will oppose it.”

Whatever happens in D.C., it will not happen in time to stop Vermont’s labeling law before it goes in to effect on July 1st, but that does not mean Vermont’s law is safe.

That is why the Vermont Right to Know coalition, Vermont’s political leaders, and advocates from around the country will be gathering on July 1st at noon on the State House lawn in Montpelier to celebrate Vermont’s law, and to call on Congress to stop the sham GMO bill backed by Roberts and Stabenow — and we hope you’ll join us!

 

For more information on the bill see the resources below.

Language of the Stabenow Roberts bill

http://www.agriculture.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Mandatory%20Labeling%20Bill.pdf

Governor Shumlin statement

http://governor.vermont.gov/node/2804

Senator Sanders statement

http://www.sanders.senate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/sanders-statement-on-gmo-compromise-legislation?utm_content=buffer09ee7&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

Senator Leahy statement

https://www.leahy.senate.gov/press/comments-on-new-bill-to-require-mandatory-national-gmo-labeling

Consumers Union statement in opposition to the bill

http://consumersunion.org/news/consumers-union-opposes-new-senate-gmo-labeling-proposal/

Center for Food Safety statement in opposition to the bill

http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/press-releases/4415/senate-compromise-on-gmo-labeling-is-blow-to-americas-right-to-know

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Join us in celebrating Vermont’s victory!

On July 1st Vermont will become the first state in the nation to require labels on genetically engineered foods!

This victory will be the culmination of years of hard work by advocates, legislators and citizens across the state.  Thanks to Vermont’s labeling law, national food manufacturers General Mills, Kellogg, Con Agra, Campbell’s and Mars have announced they will be labeling all their food, nationwide.

This is a huge win for the state of Vermont and we want you to come celebrate it with us!

On July 1st from 12:00-2:00pm we’ll gather on the State House lawn to celebrate this major milestone in food system transparency and to hear from some of the activists, farmers, food producers, policymakers and others who helped make GMO labeling a reality in Vermont. There will also be a number of family friendly activities including speakers, live music, a photo booth, games and some original live performances.

In the event of rain we will be gathering in rooms 10 and 11 inside the State House.

Bring a lunch, and come join us for this celebration of Vermont’s labeling law and the people that helped make this happen!

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No rest in the fight to label GMOs

A little over a week ago, proposals were made in the Vermont State House that would have opened up our 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 the law’s start date. We will keep fighting in Vermont to make sure our law remains strong, and will let you know if we need more calls to fight back industry proposals.

Unfortunately, once again we need to turn our focus to Washington D.C., where corporate food lobbyists continue to try to pass legislation to preempt Vermont’s labeling law before it goes into effect on July 1st.

Big Food and Senator Debbie Stabenow are pushing a proposal to replace Vermont’s clear on-package labeling law with ineffective “QR Codes”. QR Codes are similar to bar codes and would require consumers to have a smart phone, the correct application, internet service and the time to scan each product and visit companies’ websites to find out if their food is genetically engineered. All of this to avoid putting clear labeling on food packages.

We are just months away from Vermont’s first-in-the-nation GMO labeling law going into effect, and we need your help to fight off this one last push from the big food lobby. Please take a minute and join our friends at the Center for Food Safety in calling on Senator Stabenow to say NO to a QR code compromise.

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Another attack on our right to know- Action needed!

We’ve been successfully beating back challenge after challenge to our GMO labeling law since its inception- and now another has popped up.

Lobbyists for big food companies are trying to sneak changes to Vermont’s first-in-the-nation GMO labeling law into the must-pass budget bill, trying to secure last-second exemptions.

As you know, corporate food giants are suing Vermont to stop our GMO Right to Know law from taking effect on July 1, and trying to get Congress to block our law by passing the DARK Act. Now, proposals by lobbyists for those same food manufacturers are being pushed in the State House that would add more exemptions and make Act 120 harder to enforce. Our senators need to know this is unacceptable.

We are winning in the courts and in Congress, and now is not the time to make unnecessary changes to our labeling law. Please take a minute and CALL THE STATE HOUSE. Tell your senator “Don’t touch our GMO labeling law!”

To leave a brief message for your senator(s), call: 802-828-2228 or 1-800-322-5616.

If you don’t know who your senator is, you can find out here, and if you don’t have time to call the State House please send your senator an email!

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General Mills, Kellogg, Con Agra, and Mars will label Genetically Engineered Foods in the U.S.

Over the past week, four of the nation’s largest food manufacturers have announced that they will join Campbell’s in labeling genetically engineered foods sold in the United States to comply with Vermont’s upcoming GMO labeling law.

Food giants General Mills, Kellogg, Con Agra, and Mars made their announcements after a bill to eliminate Vermont’s GMO labeling law failed to advance in the US Senate last Wednesday. Vermont’s labeling law, Act 120, is set to take effect on July 1st, 2016, and all four companies say that they will label their products in accordance with Vermont’s law. Campbell’s announced in January that they will be labeling all their products sold in the US and called for a national mandatory labeling standard. These announcements signal a momentous shift in the national conversation, and undercut industry talking points that labeling food would drive up costs to consumers.

General Mills U.S. Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Jeff Harmerning stated, “We can’t label our products for only one state without significantly driving up costs for our consumers and we simply will not do that.

The result: consumers all over the U.S. will soon begin seeing words legislated by the state of Vermont on the labels of many of their favorite General Mills products”

In a statement on their website, Mars discussed their plans saying “In 2014, the state of Vermont passed a mandatory genetically modified (GM) ingredient labeling law that requires most human food products containing GM ingredients to include on-pack labeling as of July 2016. To comply with that law, Mars is introducing clear, on-pack labeling on our products that contain GM ingredients nationwide.”

On Monday Kellogg stated that they will comply with Vermont’s labeling law, and that some product labels nationwide will include the words “produced with genetic engineering”.[i]  Con Agra followed suit with an announcement soon after. All four manufacturers called for Congress to act to pass a uniform national standard for GMO labeling when they return from recess in early April.

It is expected that Vermont’s labeling law will remain a front burner issue for the Senate as July 1st and Vermont’s labeling law draw closer.

 



[i] http://www.agri-pulse.com/Mars-to-label-GMOs-joining-industry-competitors-03212016.asp

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Another victory for consumers and VT’s labeling law!

In a win for consumers across the country today, the U.S. Senate voted 48-49 against advancing a bill, known as the new Deny Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act, which would preempt Vermont’s GMO labeling law. In a press conference among representatives from the Vermont Right to Know GMOs coalition and legislative champs, Vermont Governor Shumlin spoke of our most recent success in the drawn out battle for common sense labeling:

“The food industry, led by Monsanto, has left no stone unturned in their effort deny consumer rights and thwart Vermont’s law. Today’s effort in the U.S. Senate was just the latest attempt. It will not be the last. Vermont will continue to fight to implement our law on July 1st and give consumers the right they are demanding.”

Earlier this month the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, & Forestry passed the bill, which was introduced by the committee chairman Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kan.). In the attempt to leave “no stone unturned,” industry opponents and their allies in Congress sought to trample on state and individual rights by ignoring the democratic process and passing a bill that received no hearings or discussion in committee or on the Senate floor. On Monday night of this week Sen. Roberts introduced a revised version of his bill, but today it failed a cloture vote without the 60 votes needed to close debate.

Sen. Roberts’ version of the DARK Act would have not only preempted Vermont’s labeling law, but potentially over 130 other state seed and food protection laws as well. Under the bill’s plan, companies would continue to make voluntary disclosures and after three years the USDA Secretary would determine whether 70% of the most frequently consumed packaged food had adequate disclosures. If they did not, USDA could require a mandatory solution, such as mandatory toll-free numbers, QR codes, or web sites; these types of “solutions” however are no substitute for a simple, equitable, and accessible GMO disclosure line on food packaging.

The Vermont Right to Know GMOs coalition opposed both the original and amended Roberts bill, and would like to extend a sincere thank you to everyone, including Vermont’s congressional delegation, who have been vocal in their opposition. In response to the vote today, Senator Pat Leahy noted, “Vermont has done pioneering work on behalf of consumers, and Vermont’s law is a good place to start that national debate.”