Category Archive: News & Updates

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It’s now or never for our right to know.

Senator Roberts’ despicable version of the DARK Act is going to the full Senate for a vote TOMORROW MORNING at 11am. If passed, Roberts’ bill would not only seek to stop all present and future mandatory labeling of GE food (including Vermont’s Act 120) but also potentially rescind over 130 other state seed and food protection laws! Now more than ever, we need all hands on deck.

The Senate vote is projected to be extremely close. Since the Vermont congressional delegation is already supporting our right to know, we are asking you to help influence the positions of other key Democrats. We need you to make calls TODAY to the following senators, and forward this email to your friends and family in the following states! It’s truly now or never for your right to know.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) (202) 224-2023
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) (202) 224-4024
Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) (202) 224-2441
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) (202) 224-2043
Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) (202) 224-5042
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) (202) 224-3954
Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) (202) 224-5852
Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) (202) 224-6324
Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) (202) 224-5641 ​

Here’s what to say when you call…

Americans want the Right to Know:

Dispelling GMO Labeling Myths:

  • GMO labeling will not increase food prices. Companies frequently change labels to highlight new innovations and GMO label will not act as a warning.
  • Voluntary labeling will not work. Companies have been allowed to make voluntary non-GMO disclosures since 2001, but consumers are more confused than ever.
  • There is no “patchwork quilt.” Current state GMO labeling laws are virtually identical, so there will be no “patchwork quilt” of different state laws.
  • GMO crops do not feed the world. Conventional and GMO corn and soybean yields have increased at the same rate. What’s more, U.S. farmers produce only 4 percent of rice, wheat, fruits, and vegetables, and most U.S. corn and soybeans are mostly used for animal feed and ethanol, not food.
  • GMO crops have increased herbicide applications. Widespread adoption of GMO crops has increased annual applications of glyphosate – a probable human carcinogen – from 16 million pounds to more than 280 million pounds.
  • GMO crops have led to more toxic herbicides. As weeds have become resistant to glyphosate, farmers have turned to more toxic weed killers linked to cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and reproductive problems.​​

 

Questions? ​Email maddie@nofavt.org. And THANK YOU for standing up for Vermonters’ right to know!

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Update: the DARK Act moves to Senate floor

The U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture voted in favor of the new “DARK Act” this week, sending the bill to the Senate floor.

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…

I’ll tell you one thing: This legislation, rushed forward without even a hearing, is a solution looking for a non-existent problem.  It is a last minute attack on Vermont’s law, and on Vermonters’ right to set priorities at the state government level.”

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.

Please take a minute to add your name to our letter to the U.S. Senate, asking them to protect our right to know.

 

[i] http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/files/dark-act-legal-summary_2_24_16_51265.pdf

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The DARK Act strikes back

Sign the letter: Tell the Senate to Reject the Dark Act – click here!

The DARK (“Deny Americans Right to Know”) Act is back, and Vermont’s GMO labeling law is being attacked again.

Thanks to persistent citizen action across the country we succeeded in stopping the DARK Act this winter, but with four months to go before our labeling law is fully implemented, it’s now or never – for both sides of this issue.

In typical D.C. fashion, Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS), the Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, introduced the Senate version of the DARK Act late Friday and wants to vote the bill out of committee this week. This bill threatens not only Vermont’s GMO food and seed labeling laws, but it would codify our broken voluntary labeling system and stop any state or local government from passing future laws. Instead of siding with the majority of Americans and the 64 countries around the world that already require labels for genetically engineered food, some lawmakers are following industry suggestions to block state rights to inform their citizens.

The new DARK Act is once again putting big-moneyed special interests above the public interest; corporate food and biotech lobbyists are racing the clock to push legislation through the Senate, in order to stop Vermont’s law from taking effect this July. Sen. Roberts’ version could in fact be worse than the original bill, as it also eliminates Vermont’s seed labeling law, which has required genetically engineered seeds to be labeled for years.

Thankfully, Vermont’s federal delegation has strongly supported the labeling law, as well as championing efforts to create a federal mandatory GMO labeling standard. Now their colleagues need to hear that voters will not stand for this corporate power grab at the expense of the people of Vermont and our right know about the food we eat and feed our families.

Over two thirds of our state legislators signed on to a letter urging Senators to respect the people of Vermont and our democratic process, and now it’s your turn. We expect that this bill is likely to move out of the Agriculture Committee before the week is over, so we need you to act now!

Please take a minute to sign our letter and we will make sure to keep you updated as we hear more from Washington.

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Federal spending bill rejects anti-GMO labeling push!

In a win for the 90% of Americans who support labeling GMO products, the federal spending bill released this morning not only rejected industry’s push for anti-labeling language, but included a provision requiring labeling for genetically engineered salmon!

This puts Vermonters another huge step closer to seeing labels on GMO foods next summer. 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. In fact, lobbying by anti-labeling groups is expected to top $100 million just for this year, which doesn’t even include the amount being spent fighting state ballot initiatives.

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!

VPIRG and the Vermont Right to Know GMOs coalition would like to extend a special thanks to our congressional delegation and elected officials for standing up for our right to know what’s in our food. We know that the biotech and junk food industries have not given up this fight and will be back come January. They will continue to try and use their influence in Washington to keep consumers in the dark, but we will continue to fight for your right to know. Stay tuned for more updates as we get ready to see labels on GMO foods this summer.

We Labeled GMOs - Signing

Will backroom deals trump your right to know?

Right now Congress is trying to finish up their business before they head home for the holidays. The one thing that the biotech industry and junk food giants have on the top of their wish list is for Congress to pass legislation that will stop Vermont’s GMO labeling law from going into effect. Right now they are putting massive resources into convincing Senators to include language in a must-pass spending bill that would wipe out Vermont’s hard won labeling law.

One thing that is very clear from the current debate in Washington is that people are taking notice of what we did here in Vermont. After our initial victory at the US District Court, corporate lobbyists have descended on Washington to make sure their clients don’t have to tell Americans what is in the food that they eat and feed their families.

Earlier this summer the House of Representatives passed what has been dubbed the Deny Americans Right to Know Act, or DARK Act. This legislation would not only eliminate Vermont’s labeling law but it would codify our current voluntary labeling system, make it difficult to create a national labeling standard, and allow genetically engineered foods to be labeled as “all natural”. So far the DARK Act has not moved in the Senate thanks to a strong defense of constituent rights and values.

But, this is why big special interests are trying to use their influence in Washington to slip similar language in a must-pass spending bill last minute, which would let them off the hook from letting consumers know what is in their products. Going around the 90% of Americans who support mandatory GMO labeling is simply an affront to our democratic principles, and as Senator Patrick Leahy explained, “the omnibus bill is no place for this kind of legislative rider.”

As the clock ticks down to the end of the year, we keep hearing about new ways that the biotech and junk food industries are trying to stop Vermont’s landmark labeling law. These proposals have ranged from replacing mandatory labels with voluntary “QR” codes that could be scanned with a smartphone and the correct application, to stopping Vermont’s law from going into effect for two years so that lobbyists have more time to push their corporate agenda.

Luckily Vermont’s congressional delegation and elected officials are standing strong for your right to know. Senators Leahy and Sanders as well as Representative Welch have all co-sponsored legislation that would give Americans what they are overwhelmingly asking for, mandatory on-package GMO labeling. They have also spoken out about the DARK Act and attempts to slip similar language into end of the year spending bills. This is why our top state officials including Governor Shumlin and Attorney General Sorrell recently submitted a letter to our delegation thanking them for their leadership on the issue, and asking them to keep up the fight in Washington (letter below).

As this drama unfolds in the coming weeks we will keep you updated about what you can do to stand up for your right to know. Vermonters from every corner of the state worked hard to make sure we were able to make informed decisions about our food, and we will do whatever is in our power to make sure our law is not wiped out by backroom deals in Washington D.C.


 

December 10, 2015

Senator Patrick Leahy
Senator Bernie Sanders
Representative Peter Welch

VIA ELECTRONIC MAIL

Dear Senators Leahy and Sanders, and Representative Welch:

On behalf of the State of Vermont, we thank you for your continued support of Vermont’s labeling law for genetically engineered foods. We are grateful for all your efforts to date and thank you for speaking out against efforts to preempt this law in Congress. As the legislative process progresses toward the close of the year, we ask you to remain especially vigilant and continue to protect the rights of the citizens of Vermont and the law they supported.

We strongly oppose H.R. 1599 (the “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015”), as well as any provision that might be attached to the omnibus appropriations bill that would prevent the full implementation of Vermont’s mandatory labeling law and any provision that would trade QR codes for mandatory disclosures on the food products themselves. As you know, Vermont’s labeling law was passed in 2014 with the overwhelming support of Vermonters and their legislators, and it has withstood the first round of legal actions against our State. Though the law is the first of its kind in the United States, American consumers overwhelmingly favor mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods. A recent poll by the Mellman Group found that 89 percent of likely voters want these foods labeled, with 88 percent preferring printed labels over scannable QR codes. Labeling enjoys broad international support as well, with 64 countries already requiring labeling for genetically engineered foods.

Vermont’s law requires that foods produced with genetic engineering say so plainly on the products (“produced with genetic engineering”). Anything less at the federal level—including efforts to substitute QR codes for easy-to-read labels—should be rejected. Vermont’s law enables consumers to obtain important information about the foods they eat, it serves as a model for other states, and it should stand.

Now is a crucial time for transparency in our food system. Though powerful corporate interests are doing everything in their power to prevent Vermonters from knowing that their food is produced with genetic engineering, we urge you to continue working on our behalf until Vermont’s law is fully implemented.

Thank you for your ongoing support, and we look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Peter Shumlin, Governor
William H. Sorrell, Attorney General
John Bartholomew, Representative
Carolyn Partridge, Representative
Kate Webb, Representative
Teo Zagar, Representative
Dave Zuckerman, Senator

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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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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’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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Attorney General Announces Public Meetings for GMO Labeling Rules

The Attorney General announced that next week they will hold a series of meetings across the state to discuss their proposed rules for Act 120, Vermont’s GMO labeling law. Below you can find the press release from the Attorney General’s office with all the details.

If you would like to receive updates from the Attorney General’s office whenever there is new information about the proposed labeling rules, you can sign up here.

News Release — Office of the Attorney General, Oct. 10, 2014

Contact:
Todd Daloz
Assistant Attorney General
(802) 828-4605

Attorney General William Sorrell will hold three public meetings this month to introduce the draft rules to implement Act 120, the law requiring the labeling of food produced with genetic engineering. The meetings will be held the week of October 20, 2014 in Burlington, Montpelier, and Brattleboro.

The Attorney General is responsible for promulgating the rules that will implement Act 120. These rules will provide clarity on the scope and reach of the law with the goal of both providing information and minimizing burdens on the regulated community. While the Attorney General will later solicit official public comments on the proposed draft rule, these public meetings will serve as an important opportunity for obtaining feedback from producers, retailers, and consumers.

Each of the meetings will include a thirty-minute presentation followed by an opportunity for public comments and questions. The Attorney General expects to make the draft rules public in advance of the meetings.
Details on the date, time, and location of each meeting follow:

Tuesday, October 21 12:00–2:00 PM
Contois Auditorium, City Hall 149 Church Street
Burlington, VT 05401

Wednesday, October 22 5:00–7:00 PM
Room 11, Vermont State House 115 State Street
Montpelier, VT 05633

Friday, October 24
3:30–5:30 PM
Room 2E, Marlboro College Graduate Campus 28 Vernon Street
Brattleboro, VT 05301

For directions to the Graduate Campus and parking information, visit
http://www.marlboro.edu/about/directions/brattleboro

More information about the implementation of Act 120 is available on the Attorney General’s website at http://www.ago.state.vt.us/, under the GE Food Labeling Rule link. Individuals can also contact the Attorney General’s GE Food Rulemaking Team via email at ago.gefoodlabelingrule@state.vt.us. People interested in keeping up to date on the development of the rules can also sign up for periodic email updates by visiting http://list.state.vt.us/guest/RemoteListSummary/GMOLabelingRule and following the directions there.