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The Trigger Trap: Will Vermont Lawmakers Let Industry Strangle Another GMO Labeling Law?

Vermont has an opportunity to be the first state to pass a common sense labeling law that is not dependent on other states. This article, published in Common Dreams on February 5, 2014 was written by Will Allen and Kate Duesterberg, co-managers of Cedar Circle Farm and members of the Right To Know Coalition.


From spending millions to defeat ballot initiatives, to floating a voluntary federal labeling “solution,” to threatening to sue any state, including Vermont, if it passes a GMO labeling law, the biotech and junk food industries are determined to keep labels off of foods that contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

One of their strategies designed to thwart state GMO labeling laws involves convincing normally progressive state lawmakers to add a “trigger” clause to their state bills. A trigger adds an additional condition to a bill, a condition that must be met before the law can be enacted. The trigger clause appeals to state lawmakers who want to shield their states from the financial burden of millions of dollars in legal costs, should industry follow through on threats to sue.

The trigger strategy has been employed successfully so far in Maine and Connecticut. Will Vermont be the next to fall into the trigger trap? Or will Vermont senators and the Governor stand up for their constituents by standing up to industry?

In 2013, Connecticut and Maine passed GMO labeling bills. Both those laws are in limbo, where they will remain until four neighboring states with a combined population of 20 million inhabitants pass similar labeling bills. Connecticut and Maine lawmakers justified the triggers as a strategy to spread out the legal liability in the event of industry lawsuits.

But industry activists, who thought they’d won the labeling battle only to realize they’d gained only a pyrrhic victory, are frustrated. In Vermont, where more than 90 percent of the citizens are in favor of a mandatory GMO labeling law, activists hope their lawmakers will take the lead, by passing the first clean, trigger-less GMO labeling law.

Vermont’s H.112 Can Withstand Legal Challenge

Legal scholars and the Vermont Attorney General’s office have determined that H.112 is well-researched, well-written and fully defensible in court.

Of course, industry has told every lie in the book, and pulled every trick out of its hat, to convince state lawmakers otherwise. Just as they lied to voters in California and Washington State, where GMO labeling initiatives were narrowly defeated, representatives from the Biotechnology Industry Organization testified in Vermont that the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) had performed health and safety tests on GMO crops, and found them to be safe.

That testimony was refuted by Michael Hansen, senior scientist at the Consumers Union, who stated that the FDA has never performed health or safety testing on any GMO crop. In fact, the only tests performed on GMO crops, for human food and animal feed, were those done by biotech companies or researchers working under contract for those companies. Neither the U.S. government nor independent researchers have been permitted to conduct the long-term multi-generational feeding studies that are usually required before a new product is released. Why? Because GMO seed manufacturers won’t release their proprietary seeds for testing.

In fact, the only thing most U.S. consumers know about the safety or danger of these products is what the genetic manipulators tell us.

Of course the genetic engineers have told us, and will continue to tell us that their products are safe—just like the tobacco corporations assured us for decades that their products were safe.

But consumers are wising up, thanks to the work of brave researchers in Europe and Asia who have risked their careers to conduct short and long-term studies of GMO food and animal feed. The results of these independent tests, and the widespread use of the precautionary principle, prompted 64 countries—but not the U.S.—to label GMO products to protect their citizens.

Time to Apply the ‘Precautionary Principle’ to GMOs

The precautionary principle holds that when an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships have not yet been fully established scientifically.

In the past, by refusing to employ the precautionary principle, the FDA allowed the release of arsenic, DDT, synthetic nitrogen fertilizer, and enumerable agricultural toxins into the marketplace. Humans, birds, amphibians, and the environment have all suffered from the FDA’s and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) refusal to adopt the precautionary principle or adequately test these products.

When it comes to our food, shouldn’t we take every precaution to avoid releasing products that haven’t been adequately tested for health and safety, into the marketplace?

And yet, we don’t. In the case of GMOs, the precautionary principle comes into play because preliminary results from independent researchers in the European Union and Asia found kidney and liver tumors, and intestinal abnormalities. In spite of these findings, the corporations making the products have consistently refused to let government and independent U.S. researchers conduct trials of their products.

In the U.S., the precautionary principle is rejected by corporations and government regulators who employ much more corporate-friendly “standards.” Those “standards,” known as quantitative risk assessments and cost-benefit analyses, are more like sliding scales than standards. This system determines that certain chemically produced substances make some people sick and kill other victims. This risk of illness and death is contrasted with the benefits to farmers and the food supply. In this risk-benefit system, the death of a certain number of people is evaluated as an acceptable risk in order to get the benefit of more food or animal feed by using toxic pesticides, fertilizers or GMOs.

If a pesticide causes cancer in laboratory animals, the EPA makes the calculation and the tolerance is set so that the estimated exposure will be less than the amount calculated to cause one extra cancer case per million people. This is the level that EPA calls a “negligible risk.” The EPA is not interpreting this standard strictly; however, estimated cancer risks that are almost double that level are frequently acceptable. Economic benefits have been used to justify cancer risks that are up to 10 times higher. Instead of standards, critics accuse the U.S. of employing “risk roulette.”

Consumers Want Real Laws, not ‘Triggers’

Opinion polls have shown repeatedly that consumers want GMOs labeled.  As the struggle over labeling is waged, in one form or another, in at least 26 states, the trigger becomes one of the biotech and food industry’s most effective tools.

But consumers know what the trigger strategy really is—just another way to put off the day when we have the right to know what is in our food. It is intended to protect state funds. But it’s really just another way for state legislators to avoid direct confrontation with corporate bullies.

Isn’t it time lawmakers stand up for their constituents, and stand up to industry? Let Monsanto and the Grocery Manufacturers sue. Let’s all encourage Vermont to take the lead, and pass a clean, trigger-less law. If you live outside Vermont, please visit to see how you can help. If you’re a Vermonter, please contact your state lawmaker today and ask him or her to support H.112.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.

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Label GMOs Now!

Happy first day of the Vermont 2014 Legislative Session from us all at the Right to Know GMO Coalition!

In a little more than a week, on January 16th Vermonters from every corner of the state will be helping the Right to Know Coalition kick off the session by coming to Montpelier and standing up for their right to know. Last year we became the first state to pass a GMO labeling bill through any legislative chamber, and these next few critical months will be our chance to make this bill a law.

This year we are facing incredible opposition from corporate agriculture and the biotech industry, but if enough Vermonters are willing to talk to their Senators we have a real chance to become the first state where we see labels on GMO foods. Join us on January 16th to prove now is the time for legislators to protect the right to know what’s in our food!

Click here to learn more about the plan for the day as well as to register. We will begin the day with a 1:00 rally on the capitol steps where we will make sure that Senators get the message that the time to label GMOs is now! Then the Vermont Right to Know GMOs Coalition will host a networking and teach-in event at nearby Christ Episcopal Church. Leaders from the Campaign will be on hand to give you the latest updates on the campaign and to make sure you have the tools you need when talking with your lawmakers.

Bring colorful signs with strong messages for the rally, and your digital devices to record the day.

Hope to see you all there. Our time is now!


Foul Play by Big Biotech

In September 2012, Gilles-Eric Séralini, authored a study  on the toxicological effects of rats fed GMO corn, published in The Food and Chemical Toxicology (FCT) journal, Elsevier. The study questioned the safety of GMO foods finding solid scientific evidence that the herbicide glyphosate, prominent in Roundup Ready GMO crops like corn and soy, has toxic effects in blood, liver and kidneys, and is associated with an increase of cancerous tumors in rats. Séralini states that the study was not designed as a cancer study, but rather a toxicological study, and that the cancer findings strongly underscore the need for further work to followup on the cancer findings. The study became highly controversial and the biotechnology industry has since gone to great lengths to discredit the paper.

In November 2013, shortly after the FCTs appointment of Richard Goodman, an ex-Monsanto scientist, to the new position of FCT Biotechnology Editor, the journal requested that Séralini withdraw the study claiming it was inconclusive. Séralini refused, maintains that the study is accurate, and has threatened to sue the journal.

The journal’s editor stated that “unequivocally” he had found “no evidence of fraud or intentional misrepresentation of the data.” The study showed a higher incidence of tumors in rats fed GMO corn treated with Roundup. It replicated an earlier study by Monsanto except that the length of the study was extended from 90 days to two years.

The issues cited were the type of rat chosen which are prone to tumors (though the study of course compared the same type of rats not eating GMO & Roundup) and small sample size (more for the gender-based conclusions since these cut the sample size down to approximately ten sets of five rats.) Usually journal retractions are the result of scientific misconduct, not alleged in this incident.

The usual decision to retract the peer-reviewed study is seen by some as “illicit, unscientific and unethical”, and that inconclusive data was not sufficient grounds for retraction. An independent comparative study published in December 2013 shows that Séralini’s methods were the same methods used by Monsanto’s own safety tests. None of the compared industry studies have been retracted, in fact they are the main reference for their allowance on the market.

While this kind of double standard and foul play seems to be common practice for the biotech industry, it is unacceptable from the scientific community. The evidence is piling up against the safety of GMOs indicating a strong need for more independent studies and less reliance on clearly biased and flawed industry studies. As independent findings questioning the effect of GMO’s on human safety and the environment continually arise from the global community, each year more countries respond by requiring labeling or an outright ban of GMO’s. Currently, 64 countries around the world require labeling of genetically engineered foods including the 15 nations in the European Union, Japan, Australia, Brazil, Russia and even China. Although 93% of Americans want labels on GMO’s, there are no restrictions in the United States.

Séralini [maintains]( that his study is accurate and that it indicates a need for more independent studies to determine the health effects of GMO’s. Long term epidemiological studies have not been done, in part because U.S. food producers and processors are not required to disclose genetic engineering in their products through labeling. There is currently no scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs. According to the ‘Statement: No scientific consensus on GMO safety’ signed by 230 scientists in October of 2013,

“We feel compelled to issue this statement because the claimed consensus on GMO safety does not exist. The claim that it does exist is misleading and misrepresents the currently available scientific evidence and the broad diversity of opinion among scientists on this issue. Moreover, the claim encourages a climate of complacency that could lead to a lack of regulatory and scientific rigour and appropriate caution, potentially endangering the health of humans, animals, and the environment.”
Credits: Written by Cat Buxton with contributions from the Center for Ag & Food Systems at Vermont Law School. Photo: Tamara Martin

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Dave Rogers:Valid Concerns About Genetically Altered Food Justify Labeling

Dave Rogers is a Policy Advisor for the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont (NOFA-VT), and is one of the lead organizers of the VT Right to Know GMOs coalition. Dave Joined NOFA in 2006 after 28 years as member of the UVM faculty in the Department of Animal Sciences, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Valid Concerns About Genetically Altered Food Justify Labeling
Published in print: Valley News – Saturday, May 25, 2013
Dave Rogers, Richmond,VT.

The Vermont House voted earlier this month to approve H112, a bill that requires the labeling of foods sold in Vermont that have been produced using genetic engineering technology. The 99-42 vote came after weeks of wide-ranging committee testimony by legal experts, scientists, farmers, state and federal officials, and diverse industry and public interest organizations. The committees reviewed legal briefs, scientific studies and federal regulations.

Legislators concluded that because the risks posed by genetically engineered foods to human health and the environment are poorly understood and poorly regulated that the state “should require food produced with genetic engineering to be labeled.”

Cass Sunstein, a Harvard law professor and Bloomberg View columnist, comes to a different conclusion in an op-ed published in the May 14 Valley News (“Don’t Mandate Labels for Foods with Gene-Altered Ingredients”). Sunstein believes that mandatory labeling is unwise because it would “mislead and alarm” consumers about the safety of genetically engineered foods and cause “economic damage.” He accepts the conclusions of those “official organizations” who say that genetically engineered foods are as safe as any other foods. “Unless science can identify a legitimate concern about risks to health or the environment, the argument for compulsory (genetically modified) labels rests on weak foundations,” Sunstein writes.

Apparently, he is unaware of the facts and the growing number of international scientific studies that raised such legitimate concerns among Vermont lawmakers.

Just one example: About 90 percent of the corn grown in the U.S. has been genetically engineered to produce its own insecticidal toxin (Bt toxin). These toxins are found in every bite of hundreds of foods on our market shelves that contain ingredients derived from corn. And yet, in field and laboratory studies, Bt toxins have been shown to be allergenic. (The Food and Drug Administration and EPA approved Bt corn in 1996 without adequate health and environmental safety testing.) In 2011, researchers in Quebec found Bt toxins in the blood of 93 percent of pregnant women tested and in 80 percent of fetal cord blood. “Given the potential toxicity of these environmental pollutants and the fragility of the fetus, more studies are needed,” the researchers concluded.

And just last month, in another peer-reviewed paper, Brazilian researchers reported that the Bt toxin is toxic to bone marrow and blood of laboratory mice, and that “taking into account the increased risk of human and animal exposures to significant levels of these toxins, especially through diet … further studies are required … before concluding that (Bt toxins) are safe for mammals.”

So, is there scientific uncertainty and reason for “legitimate concern” about the safety of Bt corn and foods that are made from it? You bet. And you don’t have to be a scientist to connect the dots. There are many other examples in the scientific literature — more of them all the time — that raise serious questions about the safety of genetically engineered foods and the adequacy of government regulation of related health and environmental risks.

And it turns out that even some of the “official organizations” that Sunstein states are firmly convinced of the safety of genetically engineered foods now seem to be not so sure. In June 2012, the American Medical Association, after reviewing recent studies concerning the safety of genetically engineered foods, called for mandatory FDA premarket safety assessments of such foods “as a preventive measure to ensure the health of the public.” (Most people don’t realize that the FDA does not conduct such tests, but instead relies on voluntary reporting of tests and studies conducted or funded by the companies that develop and sell the foods.) The AMA also urged the FDA “to remain alert to new data on the health consequences of bioengineered foods.”

In a 2004 report on the safety of genetically engineered foods, the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine called for “a significant research effort … to develop new methods and dietary survey tools to detect health changes in the population that could result from genetic modification and, specifically, genetic engineering of food.” To date, these new methods have not been adopted, but, as a number of scientists have pointed out, labeling genetically engineered foods would greatly assist epidemiologists in detecting subtle health effects in the population.

The case for requiring labeling is strong and getting stronger all the time. This is evident to those who make the effort to objectively examine the facts. That’s what Vermont House members did and, we hope, the state Senate will do when the bill is considered there next year. Sunstein and others who uncritically oppose genetically engineered labeling owe it to the public to do the same.

Dave Rogers is policy adviser with the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont. NOFA is a member of the Vermont Right To Know GMOs coalition ( with Rural Vermont, VPIRG and Cedar Circle Farm.

Big News! H.112 for GMO labeling passes out of House Agriculture

On March 1st, after weeks of testimony, the House Agriculture Committee passed H.112 (this year’s GMO labeling bill) with a vote of 8-3. While this is the first of many hurdles the bill has to clear in the legislative process, it is a very positive sign for all of us who support labeling genetically engineered foods.

This is another great success in a week where we held five grassroots forums around the state, and talked to hundreds of Vermonters. Thanks to everyone who came out and committed to taking action in your community. Over the next several weeks, legislators will be hearing about GMO labeling from their constituents on a regular basis. Help carry this momentum forward for the second half of the legislative session by being one of those active constituents!

Make sure your legislators hear from you during town meeting week.

As we head to Town Meeting week, make sure you show our legislators on the Agriculture Committee some appreciation for passing this crucial legislation, and reach out to your representatives to make sure they support your right to know. There will be a lot happening as we go forward and we will keep you in the loop about the latest at the State House and the role you can play in labeling genetically engineered foods in Vermont.

Read more on VT Digger:

Votes:Harvey Smith – No
Bill Stevens – Yes
Kristina Michelsen – Yes
Dick Lawrence – No
Kate Webb – Yes
Daniel Connor – No
Tess Taylor – Yes
Tristan Toleno – Yes
Carolyn Partridge – Yes
John Bartholomew – Yes
Cynthia Martin – Yes
Teo Zagar – Yes

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!




  • 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 –
  • Local Sponsor: Middlebury Coop
  • Register Here!


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

White River Junction

Additional Contacts

If you have any questions, feel free to contact us at, or one of our organizers:

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.”

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Back to the State House: Vermont Continues the Fight to Label GMO Foods

Vermont’s grassroots effort to pass the nation’s first law requiring labeling of foods made with genetically engineered ingredients (also known as GMOs or genetically modified organisms) is picking up where it left off when the Vermont Legislature adjourned in May. When the new Legislature convenes in early January, GMO labeling legislation will again be introduced with the sponsorship of a number of Vermont legislators. Last year the Vermont Right to Know GMO Coalition helped rally thousands of Vermonters whose strong messages of support were plainly heard by their elected representatives in Montpelier.  This year we will build off of this momentum and work to make Vermont the first state in the nation to require labels on genetically engineered foods.

We know that this is not going to be easy. We will be taking on the same chemical and food companies that were able to spend a million dollars a day to fight against consumer’s right to know in California, and we know they will be pulling out all the stops to make sure Vermont does not pass labeling legislation. To make our vision a reality we will need your help in convincing our legislators that we have a right to protect our health and the environment by making informed purchasing decisions.  Please take a minute and sign the Coalition’s petition to receive updates and alerts during the legislative session. If you have already signed that is great! You can expect to hear from us in the coming days about what you can do to help the campaign.

Help California Pass Prop 37!

If California passes Proposition 37 this November, not only will all GMO foods sold in California need to be labeled, but we will be taking a big step forward in making sure all Americans know what’s in their food. However, this is the last thing corporations like Monsanto and Pepsi want to see. These industrial food giants are so frightened to tell consumers what’s in their food that they have teamed up with their powerful allies to launch a $35 million dollar deceptive and dishonest ad campaign on California’s airwaves.

Click here to make sure California votes yes on 37!

Unfortunately, this smear campaign is working. Over the last few weeks, the endless avalanche of negative ads has made this race neck and neck. With a slim lead going into the last two weeks before Election Day, California needs all the help it can get. All our friends in California are asking is for you to make a few phone calls. 

 Stand up for all of our right to know!

What happens in California will have a profound effect on the rest of the country. We need your help to make sure that Monsanto and the packaged food industry can’t buy their way out of letting the American people make informed purchasing decisions. We are excited and prepared to keep fighting for GMO labeling here in Vermont regardless of what happens in California, but if we want to see meaningful change in this country, we also have to look beyond our borders. Please take the time and help make sure we all have the right to know.

Thanks for all you do!