Category Archive: News & Updates

Vermont Right to Know GMOs Announces State-wide Grassroots Action Forums Feb 25 – 28th

With all that is happening in the State House we thought it would be a great time to sit down and talk with our supporters, gather your input, and help you get ready to talk to your legislators during town meeting week.

So… we’re hosting five separate forums across the state to give you an update about the campaign, what’s happening on the national scene, and to help connect the grassroots efforts in Vermont.  These forums will provide helpful information about the many issues involved in this campaign, a chance to get to know members of your community who also care about this issue, and of course, GMO-free refreshments. Check out the list of forums below, or head over to the full web page by clicking here. We look forward to seeing you in two weeks!

Brattleboro

Burlington

Middlebury

  • When: Thursday, February the 28th, from 6:30 to 8:30
  • Where: American Legion Building, Boardman St. (Behind G. Stone Motors Rte 7 South Middlebury)
  • Contact: Matthew Ennis – mennis8@gmail.com
  • Local Sponsor: Middlebury Coop
  • Register Here!

Montpelier

  • When: Wednesday, February 27th, from 6:30 to 8:30
  • Where: Unitarian Church of Montpelier, 130 Main St.
  • Contact: Robb Kidd – robb@ruralvt.org
  • Local Sponsor: Hunger Mountain Coop
  • Register Here!

White River Junction

Additional Contacts

If you have any questions, feel free to contact us at VTRighttoKnowGMOs@gmail.com, or one of our organizers:

Things are moving in the State House

Yesterday, the House Agriculture Committee began hearing testimony on H.112, a bill that would require labels on genetically engineered food sold in retail stores in Vermont.  From the start of the session it has been clear that the prospects of Vermont passing GE labeling legislation have improved from last year.

This year’s bill was introduced to the House of Representatives with tripartisan support from Democrats, Republicans and Progressives. In all, 50 of the 150 representatives signed on to sponsor this year’s legislation.

The broad support for this legislation was echoed by Speaker of the House, Shap Smith yesterday.  “Vermonters want to know what’s in their food. To the extent that we can create a bill that allows them access to that information and can survive constitutional scrutiny, we’ll move it,” Smith said. “People are working hard to see if a bill can get there.”

Over the next two days, Dr. Michael Hansen, senior scientist for Consumers Union – the company that publishes Consumer Reports –  will support mandatory labeling in his testimony in both the House and Senate Agriculture Committees. Hansen also has meetings scheduled with top House and Senate leaders.

A lot will be happening on this issue in the coming days and weeks. If you want to learn more, make to join us for one of the community organizing sessions taking place around the state during last week of February. Find out more details about these meetings here.

We Have a Bill!

Yesterday, a group of 50 Representatives, including Republicans, Democrats, and Progressives introduced Vermont H.112, this year’s GMO-labeling legislation in the VT House. The bill was referred to the VT House Committee on Agriculture, the same committee as last year’s bill. Thanks to the experience of last year, as well as the broad popular and tripartisan support benefiting this year’s bill, things are looking good at this early stage. Continue Reading

Coalition Recognizes Ben & Jerry’s Statement of Support

Montpelier, VT – Today, Ben & Jerry’s announced that it stands with the growing movement to bring transparency to our food system by supporting legislation requiring mandatory labeling of foods produced with genetic engineering, or GMOs. The company has also committed to source only non-GMO ingredients by the end of 2013.

“This is a big victory for consumers and ice cream lovers everywhere,” said Falko Schilling, Vermont Public Interest Research Group’s consumer protection advocate. “Ben & Jerry’s is demonstrating a real commitment to its customers, and we believe it’ll be good for business as well.  Whether it’s potato chips or Cherry Garcia, consumers want to know what’s in their food, and they’ll stand behind companies that support their right to know.”

Rural Vermont Executive Director Andrea Stander commented on the announcement saying, “Rural Vermont welcomes Ben & Jerry’s commitment to be a national leader on this issue and support for the campaign to give everyone the right to know if their food has been genetically engineered. Vermont is in the vanguard of the movement to build healthy, sustainable, community-based food systems. These systems are thriving because they are based on trust and providing direct knowledge of where our food comes from and how it is produced.”

“Ben and Jerry’s has made the right decision,” said Dave Rogers, Policy Advisor for the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont. “Our right to know what is in our food is fundamental, and the evidence to support the mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods is very compelling.”

The announcement was also applauded by Vermont lawmakers. “It’s great to see such a respected Vermont specialty food company recognizing that mandatory GE labeling is the right thing for their company and their customers,” said Senator David Zuckerman.

Representative Kate Webb, a leading sponsor of proposed GE labeling legislation in Vermont, said, “We are thrilled to hear that Ben and Jerry’s is joining thousands of Vermonters and consumers around the country calling for mandatory labeling of foods produced through genetic engineering. Last year, the Vermont House Agriculture Committee took a great deal of testimony demonstrating that the State has a compelling interest this labeling. This year, we will address the remaining technical and legal concerns to develop a law that meets the needs of the people and will prevail in court.”

The announcement by Ben and Jerry’s today carries added significance because its corporate parent, Unilever, contributed $467,000 to defeat a GE food labeling ballot initiative in California just months ago.  The California initiative – Prop 37 – went down to defeat after a coalition of giant chemical companies and food manufacturers spent more than $45 million to defeat it.

“We’re used to seeing Ben and Jerry’s as a leader when it comes to consumer and environmental protection,” said VPIRG’s Schilling.  “But the company deserves extra credit in this case distinguishing their position from their parent company’s actions in favor of consumers’ right to know. This kind of bold, pro-consumer move will give a huge boost to our efforts to pass GMO Right to Know legislation in Vermont.”

# # #

A New Year, a New Campaign

Right to Know GMOs is back for 2013!

The 2013 legislative session has begun, and we are excited to see that as a result of your efforts last year, labeling genetically engineered foods (often called GMOs) will once again be a key issue in the State House. In pre-session conversations we heard from many more legislators that now support labeling GMOs, and we anticipate that bills will be introduced in both the House and the Senate very soon. We know that an overwhelming majority of Vermonters want to see GMO foods labeled, and now it’s time for us to make it happen.

National Support

After California’s labeling proposition was overwhelmed by corporate spending and misleading advertisements last November, Vermont is once again taking the lead on labeling genetically engineered foods in the United States. Support is coming from all corners of the country, and with your help we can ensure Vermonters have the right to know if what they eat and feed their families has been genetically engineered or has genetically engineered ingredients.

Time for Action

This legislative session, we’ll be all over the state, building public support and visibility for this important campaign. By signing our petitions and taking our actions, you help us immensely. By sharing those tools with your friends, you help even more. Last year, thousands of Vermonters rallied in front of the state house, cementing this issue as a key, defining moment in Vermont’s food future. This year, by building enough enthusiasm and involvement, we can ensure that our legislators make the right choice, and respect our right to know what’s in the food we eat and feed our families.

Vermont: The Next Battleground State

On Tuesday, Californians asking for the right to know what is in their food were narrowly defeated by Monsanto’s $46 million dollar smear and fear campaign. For all of us who believe that GMO foods need to be labeled this was extremely disappointing, but it also shows us the importance of continuing our efforts all across the country. The hard work of our allies in California has educated the public about this issue, and helped create a national coalition calling for GMO labeling. Big money may have won the day, but it is clear that the American people will not be kept in the dark much longer!

Here in Vermont we have a chance to be the first state to require GMO foods to be labeled. This will not be easy, but with your help we can lead the country on this issue. Last year we showed the legislature just how important this issue is to Vermonters, and this year our voice will be even louder.

Please take a few minutes and write a brief letter to the editor of your local paper about why you support the labeling of genetically engineered food, and why you think the legislature should make Vermont the first state to label GMO foods.  It only has to be 250 or 300 words, and probably won’t take you more than ten or fifteen minutes to write.  I’ve put the submission pages/emails for most of the major papers around the state below, along with some basic talking points that we’ve found work well (both with the public and with legislators) and tips on writing letters to the editor.

If you have two or three more minutes, please also submit your letter to the other papers around the state; often multiple papers will print the same letter, multiplying your impact.  And you know what your local weekly newspaper is – track them down online and submit it to them too!

GMO labeling talking points:

  •  Consumers have a right to know if their food is produced with genetic engineering, and to make informed choices about what they are eating and feeding their families.
  • Over 50 countries around the world including the European Union, Japan, China, Australia and New Zealand already require the labeling of genetically engineered foods.
  • Polls constantly show that over 90% of Americans believe that genetically engineered foods should be labeled.
  • Labeling of genetically engineered foods can provide a critical method for tracking the potential health effects of eating genetically engineered foods.
  • Over 20 other states are working to label GMOs

For more information about efforts to label genetically engineered foods, and about genetically engineered foods in general check out the resources page at www.vtrighttoknow.org

Helpful tips on writing letters to the editor adapted from Daniel Barlow, VBSR Public Policy Manager

Media outlets can sometimes get hundreds of letters each day, especially if there is a hot or contentious issue in debate. Here are a few tips that will ensure that your letter rises to the top of the pile.

      1.  Keep it short and to the point
Most newspapers only print letters that are 250-300 words long. Going over a newspaper’s limit will likely mean your letter won’t be published.  Short and to the point is better – jump right in and tackle the subject matter head on.

      2.  Tell your story
Readers will connect with a personal story better than they will a letter that’s just dry facts.  Personal stories that connect to a political issue are best. Use reputable facts or statistics to support your anecdote.

   3.  No jokes or attacks
Unless you are a professional comedian, jokes or gimmicks in letters to the editor usually don’t work. Stick to your story and the facts, but don’t sound stuffy or preachy.

4.  Include all your contact information
Newspapers often need to verify that the letters are genuine, so include your full name, town of residence and your daytime phone number. Also, if you have a title that relates to the subject matter of the letter, such as being the owner of a local business or the executive director of an organization, include that under your name at the bottom of the letter.

  5.  Make it easy
Email is the preferred way to send in the letter. Don’t include it as an attachment; paste it right into the body of the email. Be sure to include a subject header that notes this is a letter to the editor and what the subject matter is (Ex- “Letter to editor: Vermont needs to label GMOs”).

Where to submit letters to the editor: (include your name, address & phone #)
Burlington Free Press: letters@burlingtonfreepress.com.
Times Argus: letters@timesargus.com
Rutland Herald: letters@rutlandherald.com
Bennington Banner: news@benningtonbanner.com
Brattleboro Reformer: news@reformer.com

A Big Step Towards GMO Labeling

The 2012 legislative session marked a big step forward in the fight to label genetically engineered foods in Vermont. The outspoken support of thousands of Vermonters ensures that this issue will continue to be part of the political conversation through the upcoming elections, and into the next legislative session.The campaign to pass the VT Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act (H.722) taught us many lessons that we can use to become even more effective in our efforts. Most importantly, we learned that we are much stronger together than we are apart.

As a coalition we knew from day one that this campaign would not be simple or easy. We knew that we were taking on some of the largest corporate interests in the country. We also knew that similar efforts had already died in the State House without ever seeing the light of day. Knowing all this, we knew we had to take up the fight for Vermonters, and consumers everywhere.

We heard many times that over 90% of Americans want to see genetically engineered foods labeled, but we were continually surprised and invigorated by the public support for our efforts. After more than a decade of watching biotech giants take over the American food system, people have had enough.  Our campaign has been fueled by these brave and vocal activists who were not afraid to stand up and say that we deserve better from our leaders, and we have a right to know what is going onto our dinner plates.
Without the voices of thousands of Vermonters calling for the labeling of genetically engineered foods, H.722 was destined to die in committee without any testimony. Legislators said again and again that they rarely receive so much positive support on any issue, and this kept the discussion about labeling GMOs alive in the State House. Though the bill did not ultimately become law, the extensive testimony heard by the Agriculture committee laid the framework for an even stronger bill next session.

During nearly a month of testimony legislators heard many reasons why Vermont can, and should require genetically engineered foods to be labeled. They heard from Dr. Michael Hansen of Consumer Reports about the prevalence of labeling worldwide, and the numerous studies indicating possible health risks of GE foods. They heard from local food producers such as Jerry Greenfield (Ben and Jerry’s), George Schenk (American Flatbread) and Jeff Weinstein (Two Guys in Vermont Soups) who discussed the importance of transparency, and accurate labeling in our food system. Most importantly, they heard from over a hundred Vermonters who unanimously testified in support of H.722 at the public hearing on April 12th. It was this testimony that ultimately convinced the House Agriculture Committee that Vermont has a legitimate interest in requiring labeling of genetically engineered.

We are all disappointed that H.722 did not become law this session, but we are also looking forward with great optimism. Not only is the issue of labeling gaining momentum here in Vermont,  it is becoming part of the national political conversation. With groups like Just Label It submitting over a million comments to the FDA calling for labeling, or the California ballot initiative going in front of voters in November, this is an issue that is not going away.

We want to thank everyone who worked hard on this campaign. We are particularly grateful for all of you who came to Montpelier for the public hearing and packed the State House. We look forward to working with all of you in the months and weeks to come.

Please stay in touch with the campaign through our website: www.vtrighttoknow.org and through the campaign Facebook page Also, make sure you talk with your legislators and legislative candidates about where they stand on labeling genetically engineered food. Let them know that this an issue you care about and that you vote.

Where Do Your Legislators Stand?

It was just over 2 months ago that the Vermont Right to Know GMOs Coalition launched its campaign to label genetically engineered foods sold in Vermont.  With the extraordinary grassroots support of thousands of Vermonters like you, and thousands of other cheerleaders around the country, we set out on what we knew would be difficult work against powerful and entrenched corporate interests.

After weeks of testimony by diverse experts and well over one hundred Vermonters, the VT Right to Know Genetically Modified Food Act (H.722) was passed by the House Agriculture Committee on April 20th.  Vermonters made it very clear to their elected officials that they have a right to know what is in the food they eat and feed their families.

But with limited time left in the session, it is now clear that the legislature will not pass the bill this year. We, like you, are frustrated and disappointed, but this does not mean that we will stop our advocacy on this important issue.  We are already working to build on everyone’s hard work, and will come back next session with an even stronger bill.

Once again, we ask for your help.  Election season is fast approaching and it is important to find out where each of our representatives stands on this critical issue.Please take a moment to contact your Senators and Representatives before the legislative session ends on May 5th.

Contacting them is simple and quick, just click here. Simply ask them, if they are elected, will they support a bill calling for the labeling of genetically engineered food.

After you have contacted your lawmakers, click here to let us know where they stand on this issue. Whether their answer is Yes, No or Maybe, this information will be extremely useful in our grassroots organizing and legislative efforts and success next year.

On behalf of NOFA VT, Rural Vermont and VPIRG, thank you for your strong support and excellent work on this issue. We look forward to working with you and everyone as we prepare for the next legislative session.

Our organizations will be in touch to let you know about other issues and programs we are working on of importance to Vermont’s consumers, farms, food system and environment.

Onward ….

Falko Schilling
Consumer Protection Advocate,
VPIRG
falko@vpirg.org
802-223-5221 x.26
David L. Rogers,
Policy Advisor,
NOFA Vermont
Dave@nofavt.org
802-434-4122
(NOFA office)
802-244-6446
(Home office)
Andrea Stander
Executive Director,
Rural Vermont
andrea@ruralvermont.org
802-223-7222

H.722 Passes out of Committee

On April 20th the House Agriculture Committee voted 9-1 in favor of labeling of genetically engineered foods sold in Vermont. The vote came after the Committee had heard nearly a month’s worth of testimony, including the April 12th public hearing when hundreds of the bill’s supporters packed the House chamber. The more than one hundred citizens who testified unanimously called for passage of the bill. Since then, the committee has been working to make the bill stronger and more legally defensible.

“This vote puts the people of Vermont one step closer to getting the information they deserve about the food they are eating and feeding their families” said VPIRG Consumer Protection Advocate Falko Schilling. “The Committee heard a lot of compelling testimony about why these foods need to be labeled, and I think the bill that they voted out reflects that.”

With the legislative session drawing to a close the fate of the bill is uncertain, but it will most likely move to the House Judiciary Committee before it could come up for a vote on the house floor.

To stay up to date with the efforts to label genetically engineered foods in Vermont make sure to follow the campaign on Facebook and on Twitter

Hundreds Gather in Support of Vermont GMO Right to Know Rally and Hearing

A great account of the April 12th public hearing by Farm Aid’s Joel Morton.

Farm Aid was on hand last Thursday evening at the statehouse in Montpelier where hundreds of Vermonters from all four corners of the state gathered to rally and publicly testify in support of bill H722, which would require clear labeling of all GMO products sold in the state. So many supporters of the bill packed the statehouse that the hearing before the House Agriculture Committee had to be moved from a smaller room onto the statehouse floor in order to accommodate everyone who wished to testify. In all, 111 citizens (including yours truly) testified before the committee, every single one of them speaking in favor of the proposed bill.

The evening was an object lesson in public organizing and a stirring example for millions of others around the nation who are beginning to stand up to government inaction and corporate bullying on GMO issues. Spurred by collaborative outreach by community-based organizations such as Rural Vermont, NOFA Vermont and VPIRG, Vermont farmers, business people, teachers, parents, students, the elderly and the very young came together to demand their right to know what is in the food they consume.

At the rally on the footsteps of the statehouse prior to the hearing and also during his testimony during the hearing, organic farmer Will Allen of Cedar Circle Farm & Education Center proposed the creation of a state legal defense fund to counter Monsanto’s threat to sue the state if H722 were to pass during this legislative session.

Others testifying echoed Will’s proposal by flashing their checkbooks at Ag Committee members and stating that they were prepared to contribute to help defend the state and its citizens from corporate legal attack. Others testifying brought a wide range of personal and community concerns to the table. Registered nurse Judy Persin testified personally to the ill health effects of unknowingly consuming GMO-laced food products. Former New York City firefighter Rich Conti testified on behalf of other recovering 9-11 first responders, attributing his own recovery partly to his commitment to eating only the highest quality non-GMO foods. Dozens of other Vermonters spoke eloquently and forcefully in defense of citizens’ right to know what is in their food.

Another fascinating aspect of the evening was its “Occupation” inflection. After an initial warning from a statehouse official to remain quiet during hearing testimony, the crowd immediately shifted to use of the “silent cheer” made popular at Occupy general assemblies nationwide, signaling their approval of testimony with arms outstretched and hands and fingers wagging back and forth. Take a close look at this photo showing the “silent cheer” in action.

Farm Aid was on hand at the rally and hearing to help ensure that Vermont legislators understand that the nation is indeed watching, and that we fully expect our elected officials, in Vermont and elsewhere, to follow the will of the people. We will continue to support and participate in grassroots organizing to take back control of our food system. Please let us know what you’re doing in your neck of the woods!

Click here to check to check out the Farm Aid blog.