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6-Regulation: Vermont (USA) Farmer Protection Act has an uncertain future



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TITLE:  GE seed conference committee dissolves
        FPA's future uncertain
SOURCE: The Country Courier, USA, by Jedd Kettler
        http://www.thecountycourier.com/index.php?
option=content&task=view&id=2717
DATE:   

------------------ archive:  http://www.genet-info.org/ ------------------


GE seed conference committee dissolves
FPA's future uncertain

MONTPELIER: A conference committee that has spent recent weeks working to
find compromise between Senate and House versions of a genetically
engineered (GE) seed liability law dissolved last week, leaving S.18,
also known as the Farmer Protection Act, with an uncertain future.

A second committee of conference could be formed if House and Senate
leadership choose to do so.

"The bill has not technically been killed," said Amy Shollenberger,
Policy Director with Rural Vermont, a group which was at the lead in
getting S.18 through the Senate. "A new conference committee could be
appointed."

Two lawmakers representing Franklin County voters were on the conference
committee, which formed in mid-January to resolve differences between the
Senate's call for strict liability language and a weaker version from the
House. The committee began work in recent weeks, passing several new
versions of the bill, S-18, back and forth before declaring an impasse on
Wednesday, March 1.

As with their respective legislative bodies, Rep. Avis Gervais (D-
Franklin-4, Enosburgh, Bakersfield) and Sen. Vincent Illuzzi (R-Essex-
Orleans), whose district includes Montgomery and Richford, lined up on
opposing sides of the discussion and approaches to a solution.

S.18 easily passed the Senate in April, 2005 after months of scrutiny in
the Senate Judiciary Committee. Though House leadership named the bill a
priority and began acting on it early this year, opposition to the Senate
language already hardened and Representatives passed a bill which relied
in large part on existing consumer law protections.

Senators offered a new version to the conference committee, which changed
the strict liability language to private nuisance. Other parts of their
proposal convinced Representatives that is was just a different form of
strict liability. House members then came back with their own version,
which upped requirements on those seeking liability damages. In the end
it was just a matter of a few words that caused the impasse, but the
words were significant enough that both sides of the debate appear
confident they did the right thing by walking away.

"I could not accept strict liability," Gervais said this week. For
Gervais and others on the House side of the conference committee, the
private nuisance language proposed by their Senate counterparts was
tantamount to strict liability.

"We are really appreciative of the Senators that were willing to stand
strong," said Shollenberger. "They did the right thing by walking."

Illuzzi said this week that lobbying by GE seed companies through dealers
directly to farmers helped sway many away from supporting S.18.

"Opponents of the legislation have convinced dairy farmers that this bill
will prevent them from using certain genetically engineered products,"
said Illuzzi. "I guess where we collectively have failed is that... while
we were educating ourselves at the Statehouse... we've lost the debate in
the public arena."

Shollenberger said proponents of strict liability will continue to fight
for GE seed liability legislation whether a second conference committee
is formed or not.

"I know we're not done," Shollenberger said.




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