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CONSUMERS & REGULATION: Vermont (USA) House Committee on Agriculture and Forest Products clears GE food labeling bill



                                  PART 1


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TITLE:   VT. HOUSE COMMITTEE APPROVES GMO FOOD BILL

SOURCE:  WCAX Radio, USA

AUTHOR:  Kyle Midura

URL:     http://www.wcax.com/story/21439656/vt-house-committee-approves-gmo-food-bill

DATE:    02.03.2013

SUMMARY: "A proposal to force food producers to label genetically modified or engineered products cleared a significant hurdle in the Vermont Statehouse Friday. The House Committee on Agriculture and Forest Products voted in favor of passage 8-3. Experts estimate about 80 percent of processed foods contain at least one genetically engineered ingredient. Earlier this year, Vt. Attorney General Bill Sorrell cautioned lawmakers that should such a bill pass, the state faces substantial legal challenges. But proponents say the issue is too important to ignore."

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VT. HOUSE COMMITTEE APPROVES GMO FOOD BILL

MONTPELIER, Vt. - A proposal to force food producers to label genetically modified or engineered products cleared a significant hurdle in the Vermont Statehouse Friday.

The House Committee on Agriculture and Forest Products voted in favor of passage 8-3.

Experts estimate about 80 percent of processed foods contain at least one genetically engineered ingredient.

Earlier this year, Vt. Attorney General Bill Sorrell cautioned lawmakers that should such a bill pass, the state faces substantial legal challenges. But proponents say the issue is too important to ignore.

?We heard from many, many constituents and many Vermonters who really wanted to have the right to know what was in their food,? said Rep. Carolyn Partridge, D-Windham.

Committee Chairwoman Partridge says the bill will not make it out of the House before the crossover deadline. She says she will ask for an exemption if the bill wins approval on the House floor.



                                  PART 2

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TITLE:   HOUSE COMMITTEE BACKS LABELING LAW FOR GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOODS

SOURCE:  Vermont Digger, USA

AUTHOR:  Andrew Stein

URL:     http://vtdigger.org/2013/03/01/house-committee-moves-labeling-law-for-ge-foods-forward/

DATE:    01.03.2013

SUMMARY: "Vermont is one step closer to becoming the first state in the nation to enact a labeling law for genetically engineered foods. The legislation, H.112, would give consumers access to information about what food products have been genetically modified. The House Committee on Agriculture and Forest Products voted 8-3 in favor of the bill. Rep. John Bartholomew, D-Hartland, said after three weeks of ?annoyingly contradictory? testimony, the committee was unable to determine whether there are ?serious health consequences to these products.?"

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HOUSE COMMITTEE BACKS LABELING LAW FOR GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOODS

Vermont is one step closer to becoming the first state in the nation to enact a labeling law for genetically engineered foods.

The legislation, H.112, would give consumers access to information about what food products have been genetically modified.

The House Committee on Agriculture and Forest Products voted 8-3 in favor of the bill.

Rep. John Bartholomew, D-Hartland, said after three weeks of ?annoyingly contradictory? testimony, the committee was unable to determine whether there are ?serious health consequences to these products.?

?We are only able to say there were ? some unanswered questions about the safety of these foods,? he said. ?A consumer needs to know so that he or she can make an informed decision about what products they are going to buy. If they know it?s in there, and they?re going to buy it, OK.?

The proposed bill defines genetically engineered foods as those created from organisms in which the genetic material has been changed via in vitro nucleic acid techniques or cellular fusion. Foods for sale in the retail marketplace that are produced ?entirely or partially? using these methods, must be labeled under the proposed legislation.

Raw GE foods would require a label that says: ?produced with genetic engineering? or ?genetically engineered.? Processed foods that contain one or many GE ingredients would be labeled ?partially produced with genetic engineering? or ?may be partially produced with genetic engineering.?

Under the legislation, GE foods could not be advertised as: ?natural,? ?naturally made,? ?naturally grown,? ?all natural,? or use any similar descriptions that ?have a tendency to mislead a consumer.?

The statewide trade organization Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility fully supports the bill.

Dan Barlow, a lobbyist for VBSR, said, ?Vermonters have a right to know what?s in their food, and right now GMOs are a threat to the Vermont brand. I think this move can only strengthen the Vermont brand going forward.?

Others have reservations about the bill. Margaret Laggis, who lobbies for the biotech industry, represents the groups Dairy Farmers Working Together and United Dairy Farmers of Vermont.

?Dairy farmers ? know that the people who are pushing this consumer right-to-know bill actually want to ban the use of this technology,? she said. ?And Vermont farmers have overwhelmingly embraced this technology as the only way for them to raise the quality crops, meet the Vermont quality standards, etcetera, on their farms.?

Rep. Harvey Smith, R-New Haven, who voted against the bill, is one of those farmers.

?For the first time in the last 30 to 40 years, we have some products out there that are really friendly to the environment, friendly to water quality, reduce the use of pesticides, reduce the use of herbicides, and all at the same time they help increase the farmer?s yield and the farmer?s ability to turn a profit,? he said to the committee. ?For all of those reasons, I?m very concerned about this.?

Many dairy and livestock products, however, would not be subject to GE labeling, as the legislation exempts ?food consisting entirely of or derived entirely from an animal which has not itself been produced with genetic engineering.?

The bill exempts a range of other foods, and Laggis questions the bill?s purpose.

?This bill has an ice cream truck size exemption for probably 60 percent to 70 percent of the foods Vermonters eat because meat, dairy, alcohol are not included, no restaurant foods,? she said. ?We kind of feel like this is the largest, state-sponsored, consumer-deception bill we?ve ever seen.?

Falko Schilling, an advocate with Vermont Public Interest Research Group, he says the exemptions are similar to proposals now under consideration in 20 other states and laws now in effect in dozens of countries around the world.

?What we?re trying to do is play catch up with the rest of the world,? he said. ?Look at Europe: They don?t require labeling of meat or milk from cows that have been fed GE feed. It?s also the language that?s been incorporated in the Washington initiative and in a number of state?s across the country, so (the committee) is just trying to be as consistent as possible.?

The bill, Schilling said, is based on Proposition 37, the California labeling law that was defeated by voters last November.

The Vermont bill would take effect 18 months after two other states enact similar legislation or on July 1, 2015, or whichever date comes first.

But before that day arrives, the legislation is likely to hit a legal hurdle.

That?s why the law includes a severability clause. If any part of the legislation violates the Vermont or U.S. constitutions, ?the violation shall not affect other provisions? of the law.

Seven Days reporter Katie Flagg reported earlier this week that leading advocates of the bill and Democratic Rep. Carolyn Partridge, who chairs the Agriculture Committee, anticipate a lawsuit. Partridge is a strong supporter of the legislation.

?I?m not intimidated at all,? she told Flagg.



                                  PART 3

------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:   WHO?S TRYING TO KILL THE GMO BILL?

SOURCE:  Seven Days, USA

AUTHOR:  Kathryn Flagg

URL:     http://www.7dvt.com/2013whos-trying-kill-gmo-bill

DATE:    27.02.2013

SUMMARY: "Rural Vermont director Andrea Stander has no doubt about what will happen if the legislature passes a GMO labeling bill that requires food products containing genetically modified organisms to say so on the packaging. ?Yes, there will be a lawsuit,? says Stander, whose organization advocates for Vermont?s family farmers. ?But this is a case we can win.? After two failed attempts in 2011 and 2012, Vermont lawmakers are making a third try at passing a bill requiring food producers to label products containing genetically engineered ingredients."

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WHO?S TRYING TO KILL THE GMO BILL?

Rural Vermont director Andrea Stander has no doubt about what will happen if the legislature passes a GMO labeling bill that requires food products containing genetically modified organisms to say so on the packaging.

?Yes, there will be a lawsuit,? says Stander, whose organization advocates for Vermont?s family farmers. ?But this is a case we can win.?

After two failed attempts in 2011 and 2012, Vermont lawmakers are making a third try at passing a bill requiring food producers to label products containing genetically engineered ingredients. Food manufacturers conservatively estimate that between 60 and 80 percent of processed foods contain at least one ingredient derived from genetically engineered corn, soybeans or other crops. Yet consumers have no way of knowing what products contain ?GE? ingredients.

The European Union, Australia and China already require food labels to disclose genetically engineered ingredients, but so far neither the U.S. nor any individual state has succeeded in enacting a GMO labeling law.

Local supporters such as Dave Rogers, policy adviser for the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont, wants Vermont to become the first. He admits the science isn?t settled on the safety of GMOs. But he says that?s all the more reason to require labeling.

?We?re not saying this stuff is going to kill you,? Rogers says. ?In the face of such uncertainty, we have a right to know what we?re buying and make our own choices.?

By all measures, GMO labeling is a wildly popular idea here. A third of the legislature ? 50 House members and 11 senators ? have signed on as cosponsors of two labeling bills, H.112 and S.89. And a grassroots coalition is staging public forums around the state this week to rally support for what it calls ?common-sense labeling.?

And yet the legislation faces significant obstacles. Last year, the House Agriculture Committee passed a GMO labeling bill by a vote of 9-1, but the bill died after a biotech industry lobbyist warned lawmakers that Vermont would almost certainly be sued if it passed the bill.

The biotech industry, purveyors of most genetically modified seeds, is again watching Vermont closely, according to Rep. Carolyn Partridge (D-Windham), chair of the House Agriculture Committee and a cosponsor of H.112. In fact, earlier this month the Biotechnology Industry Organization flew Val Giddings, a senior fellow with the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, from Washington, D.C., to Montpelier to testify on the merits of genetically engineered foods, and the folly ? from his perspective ? of the proposed labeling law.

Dressed in blue jeans and rolled-up shirtsleeves, Giddings told lawmakers on February 15 that genetically engineered foods are actually safer than nonengineered products, and that the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the federal Food and Drug Administration have sufficiently studied the safety of GE foods. In fact, an FDA official told state lawmakers on February 19 that the FDA does none of its own testing of GE foods, instead relying on studies submitted by biotech companies themselves, or occasionally independently accredited labs, to evaluate the safety of various products.

Still, Giddings wrote later in an email to Seven Days, ?The claim that these items have not been tested, and we?re all guinea pigs, is abundantly contradicted by not just mountains but Himalayan ranges of facts. I am completely fine with consumers making free choices ? I am not OK with consumers being stampeded by deliberately misleading false alarms into choosing less safe foods out of the mistaken conviction they are more safe.?

Giddings? blue jeans and bluster didn?t impress the bill?s many supporters, some of whom later remarked that his testimony came across as bombastic in Montpelier.

But it?s not just out-of-state biotech interests weighing in against the labeling bill. Watching closely is Margaret Laggis, a longtime Vermont lobbyist representing dairy farmers who take offense at the bill in large part because more than 90 percent of the field corn grown in the state ? admittedly for animal consumption ? comes from genetically modified seed. But dairy producers wouldn?t have to slap disclosure labels on their milk jugs: Under the proposed bill, milk and meat would be exempt from the labeling law.

Some grocers and specialty food producers, meanwhile, worry the labeling law would hurt small businesses and potentially drive up the cost of food for consumers. Cathy Bacon, the owner of Randolph-based Freedom Foods, a company that packages and develops food for other brands, testified before the House Agriculture Committee on February 20.

?It?s not that I don?t support factual labeling,? Bacon told lawmakers, adding that food labeling shouldn?t be done state by state. ?This has to be a USDA or FDA issue. For my clients, and certainly the small Vermont companies starting up, if they want to distribute nationally, this is going to pose a lot of cost to them.?

But the bill?s supporters note the FDA and USDA haven?t shown leadership on the issue, forcing the state to take action. Proponents believe Vermonters overwhelmingly back GMO labeling, pointing to an 11-year-old poll by the University of Vermont Center for Rural Studies that showed 90 percent of respondents support labeling of genetically engineered foods.

The reasons are many: Some claim religious objections to tinkering with crop DNA, while others believe that GE foods are environmentally destructive, threaten crop diversity and pose health hazards. Numerous studies have looked into the safety of GE foods, but no clear consensus has emerged.

Lawmakers crafting this year?s bills believe they can pass legislation that would stand up to a court challenge. Supporting that claim is a memo prepared by the Vermont Law School?s Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic on behalf of Vermont Public Interest Research Group. In it, two law students, supervised by clinic director Laura Murphy, argue Vermont is on safe legal ground mandating GMO labeling.

Lawmakers have reason to proceed cautiously. In 1994, then-governor Howard Dean signed a law requiring labels to indicate whether milk came from cows treated with the growth hormone rBST, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit struck down that law. Murphy says there are several significant differences between the GE bill and the rBST labeling law ? enough that she?s confident any Vermont bill would survive constitutional scrutiny.

Murphy explains that the state will need to prove there?s more than just ?consumer curiosity? at stake in order to ensure the law is defensible. Vermont was sued after passing a mercury labeling law in 1998, she notes, but won the lawsuit because the state could prove it was motivated by concerns over the health and safety impacts of mercury contained in fluorescent light bulbs, batteries and other products. That?s one reason the House Agriculture Committee is soliciting testimony about health and safety concerns related to GE ingredients.

Assistant Attorney General Bridget Asay, whose boss would have the job of defending a lawsuit, has twice testified before legislators on this year?s bill. The attorney general?s office has not taken a position one way or the other on the bill, but warns that Vermont would be on the hook to pay the biotech industry?s attorneys? fees if the law is challenged successfully.

?We consider the law to be defensible, but defensible is not the same as prevailing,? says Asay, ?and there is significant risk that the law would not be upheld.?

Partridge, for one, insists she won?t be bullied by the biotech industry. She?s more worried about her own constituents, she says, who?ve made it clear that they support labeling foods with GMOs.

?I?m not intimidated at all,? Partridge says. ?We?re anticipating a lawsuit, and that?s why we?re crafting this bill to be ultimately defensible.?

As for the concern about the bill?s effect on specialty food producers, Partridge says that the landscape has already shifted in the last year. Ben & Jerry?s cofounder Jerry Greenfield recently testified to state lawmakers that Vermont?s finest is making plans to go GE-free by the end of 2013.

Other cosponsors of the bill view it as imperfect but necessary. ?It?s a flawed bill, because it could put on a burden on Vermont producers. It could attract a lawsuit that Vermont can?t afford. But it?s a start,? says Rep. Teo Zagar (D-Barnard). ?It?s the only way right now that we can give consumers the informed consent that we need if we want to make decisions about this technology.?

The House Agriculture Committee began marking up the labeling bill late last week. If it passes there, it would make stops in the two other House committees ? Judiciary and Commerce and Economic Development ? before heading for a floor vote. Should the bill miss the mid-session crossover deadline, Partridge says she?ll seek an extension from Senate leaders.

Will this year be any different than last? Supporters hope so. NOFA Vermont?s Rogers says the bill has a lot of momentum coming off last year, when more than 350 Vermonters turned out for a public hearing on the issue. The national push for GMO labeling took a hit last year, when California voters narrowly defeated a measure to require such labeling after the biotech industry spent $47 million fighting Proposition 37; supporters spent $7 million.

But Rogers isn?t discouraged.

?I think the biotech industry and Big Food thought that they could kill all of this around the country by defeating Prop. 37 in California,? he says. ?People certainly were discouraged for a little while after that, but all it did was just strengthen the resolve of people around the country ? It?s not going to go away, and how those on the other side, particularly the ones with the deep pockets, choose to play their hand, we?ll see.?