By Becka Gregory
August 29th, 2013
Residents of Williston gathered on East Hill Road Friday evening for a home-cooked meal with a side of politics.
About 30 residents visited GMO-labeling advocate Esther Palmer’s home to eat locally-produced, Genetically Modified Organisms-free food prepped by young participants in the Whole Food Cooking camps. Attendees spoke with representatives from GMO-labeling advocacy group VPIRG, as well as State Rep Jim McCullough, a co-sponsor of the H.112 bill. The bill, passed in the House of Representatives by a vote of 99-42 on May 10, would require the labeling of genetically modified retail products.
The bill had the support of more than 100 Vermont farmers and food producers, as well as thousands of residents interviewed by VPIRG and polled by UVM’s Center for Rural Studies. VPIRG’s current GMO labeling campaign is its largest ever, with more than 70 door-to-door canvassers that reached every town in the state, according to VPIRG’s Assistant Canvass Director Dylan Zwicky.
Supporters of the bill are wary of GMO products and their potentially adverse health effects and want the ability to choose if they want to ingest GMOs. GMO crops are engineered to contain toxins that act as pesticides, and are not required to be tested for safety of human consumption by the FDA, according to information provided by VPIRG. “Technology comes in and says we can improve on nature, and then we find out later there is a price to pay,” said resident Edward Smith. Independent studies have shown that new toxins and allergens in GMOs may pose health risks to humans.
Connecticut recently passed a bill requiring GMO labeling, but timing details mean Connecticut residents might not be seeing labels for a few years. Requirements include the provision that at least four other Northeastern states must pass similar laws, one of which must border Connecticut, before labeling will begin. “It is likely that the final (Vermont) version that will be passed will have language in it that other states in the region have to have similar legislation,” McCullough said. This requirement for other states to create labeling laws presents potential for delay in the execution of the bill as their legislative process takes place, but as currently written it would take effect on July 1, 2014.
One of the biggest hurdles faced by the bill is the threat of legal retaliation against the state by biotech companies such as Monsanto, which promotes GMO labeling on its European website, but is against such labeling according to its U.S. website. “There are some legal concerns, and we want to make sure Vermont is on good legal footing before going forward. We do have the right to protect the health and well-being of Vermonters,” said Zwicky.
This isn’t the first time that Vermont has been threatened while creating controversial law. McCullough sees similarities in the risk of a lawsuit between H.112 and the ban on hydraulic fracturing in Vermont, passed in 2012. “The threat of a lawsuit is terrifying because it means expense, but threats are pretty easily made. Bullies make threats. The best we can do as legislators is balance bullies and threats with the wants and needs of Vermonters,” he said.
McCullough advised supporters of H.112 to take action. “The next strategy is to contact your senators, and if you’ve done that already, come December, do it again. The other thing to do would be to contact the senate agricultural committee members and state your support.”
Contact information for state representatives can be found on the legislative directory at www.leg.state.vt.us.