House committee backs labeling law for genetically modified foods

Democratic Rep. Carolyn Partridge, who chairs the House Agriculture Committee, announces the result of the 8-3 vote in favor of the GE labeling bill that she supported. Sitting next to her is Vice Chair Rep. Richard Lawrence, R-Lyndonville, who opposed the legislation.  Photo by Andrew Stein
Democratic Rep. Carolyn Partridge, who chairs the House Agriculture Committee, announces the result of the 8-3 vote in favor of the GE labeling bill that she supported. Sitting next to her is Vice Chair Rep. Richard Lawrence, R-Lyndonville, who opposed the legislation. Photo by Andrew Stein

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, 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 states 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 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.

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  • David Zuckerman

    I am pleased this legislation is moving forward, and I want to address a couple of points that the opposition has made:

    1) to Rep. Smiths point, Organic farmers have been farming in the way that do all that he has indicated: environmentally sound, feewr pesticides, in fact, NO herbicides, and profitably. So GE technology is not the first to allow that in 30-40 years. However, there are those that would counter that people should not be forced to grow organically. Nothing in this law would force that. I want dairy to be more profitable as well. GMO’s is not what will get to that scenario. The milk pricing system as well as input costs are what are driving our conventional dairy farms out of business. GMO technology is not actually helping.

    2) Mrs. Laggis point that there are exeptions. I guess I would ask her…if the exeptions were removed would she then support the bill? I am quite certain her answer would be No. She is trying to confuse things and is putting up straw arguments. The reason for the exemptions is that there are scientific studies that show that there may be a health risk to direct consumption of GMO or GE products. So we are working to allow consumers the right to know what has them while further study can clarify the safety of consuming them. There is almost no research on the human consumption of animal products derived from animals that have consumed GMO/GE technology.

    The reasons for the exemptions are clear. While I would prefer they all be labeled there is less evidence for that at this time. I hope that we have better science in the future to clarify that issue. But for her to argue we should not pass it because it only labels foods with ingredients that are GMO/GE is a rediculous argument being used to try to confuse the general public.

    • Jim Christiansen


      Are you an advocate of banning GMO/GE agriculture products?


      • David Zuckerman

        I do not think GE techology in our food supply is a good idea. I am also not 100% opposed to it. What I think we have right now is a system where we have had minimal unbiased research as to the human health or environmental consequences of introducing foreign genes into plants which can replicate and spread those genes far and wide. I would prefer that research be done without all of us and our environment being the guinea pig. But that genie is out of the bottle.

        I am an advocate for allowing consumers to chose through accurate information.

        I think there are potentially good things that can come from GE work in medicine. In fact insulin is created using GE bacteria. All of that work that is done is far more regulated and far more contained than the work that is being done in agriculture.

  • Duncan Kilmartin

    While I agree with the consumer’s need to know what is in their food, I believe, notwithstanding my deep and abiding concern that Montsanto and other genetic engineering behemoths are seriously endangering food chain security for the entire planet, that the House bill passed by the House Agriculture Committee misses the real and most fundemental problem facing us: allowing the patenting of life forms modified by genetic engineering, with no effective protections and restrictions by Congress or the federal Administration.

    Most simply put, we have lost our fundemental anchor point on life, and are adrift amid tumultuous seas far from any lighthouse or safe mooring, including the bill passed out of House Agriculture.

    Thus, critical analysis of the issue starts from the current condition that U.S. law both allows and encourages gmo alteration of life forms, which, once altered, are protected by patent law for commercial and monopolistic purposes.

    This is contrary to both creation and evolution doctrines which converge around the notion that seed bearing plants and fruits containing their own seed, which are self regenerating, belong to all mankind for food and life sustaining purposes.

    Jewish and Christian Holy Scripture proclaims:
    “And G_d said,”Behold, I have given you (all mankind, not Montsanto) every plant yielding seed that is on the face of the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You (all mankind) shall have them for food…And G_d saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” Genesis 1:29,31.

    Montsanto in particular, along with others, have, in the name of “doing good”, used current U.S. law and Supreme Court decisions, to significantly jeopardize food security here and in third world countries, because both Congress, which has close to exclusive jurisdiction over our food chain, and the federal Courts, have failed to institute adequate protections to preserve the spirit and intent of Genesis 1:29,31. Secularists are so fearful of quoting Scripture, lest they be accused of believing in G_d, that they ignore the transcendent and eternal truth that is intended to protect us from ourselves.

    I am the first to recognize it is one thing to know the truth, and quite another to apply it so that it frees us.

    The bill, as framed, does not free us from the mal-effects of altering life forms. I do not believe the Vermont Legislature is able to craft a bill that will undo this basic violation of “natural law”.

    The still imperfect answer lays with Congress, to pass realistic laws regulating genetic engineering of food life forms, and for the Courts to enforce those laws.

    Again, simply put, Vermont does not have the jurisdiction or authority to pre-empt Congress and the Federal Courts in this area, and we know it.

    While Montsanto has hubris in extremis, so does Vermont.

    Folks, that is not a match made in Heaven…rather it will be made in hell. If this bill passes and gets the Governor’s approval, there will definitely be a law suit, and if we lose, Vermont taxpayers will foot the legal fees of Montsanto in the millions of dollars. It happened before.

    For David fans of “David vs. Goliath”, of which I am a “dedicated diehard fan and frequent wannabe”, I have scoured all the Vermont brooks and cannot find any smooth stones that will bring down Goliath. Oh, there are lots of David “wannabes” out there (8 of them are friends of mine on House Ag), but I don’t see this bill as containing any stones equal to the task…more like grains of fine sand that may irritate but not annihilate or terminate.

    What can we do that would address consumer protection and avoid the near certainty of having this law struck down?

    Authorize sellers of non-gmo food products to clearly advertise their products as “gmo free”, “no gmo ingredients”, subject to requirements that they have done due dilligence to make that statement with reasonable certaintly as to its accuracy, and the consumer will be able to make informed choices today, not in 2015 or later or never. If we want informed consumer choices today, then give the “gmo free” farmers and producers the advertising advantage they seek in the “free market”, and put the fair presumption in the market place that any other food product is presumptively gmo. Far mote cost effective than the House Ag approach.

    On a final note, I wouldn’t advise legislative approval of the use of “all natural” or “natural” in any labeling because of its vagueness and unintended consequences.

    As I frequently jest to my zealous “all natural” friends, “Here, I have a jar of naturally grown, naturally harvested, naturally canned, all natural mushrooms, for your next dinner party. Enjoy.”.

    At the funeral of several of the dinner guests, I confess to their survivors after being questioned how such a “naturally produced, havested, processed food, grown in an all natural forest free from those contaminents from those midwestern coal-burning utility plants, could kill their loved ones”:
    “Well, hell’s bells, no one asked which side of the natural tree in the natural forest with natural contaminant-free rainfall, they were naturally grown on, by mother nature herself. If you had asked, I would have told you, “ON THE DARK SIDE!””

    Beware of your labels!

  • Michael Gohl

    Years ago, my mother-in-law and I would have “natural vs organic” discussions. To me it was rather frustrating that she assumed that most everything labeled “natural” was naturally good for you. I naturally felt that a product with natural ingredients might not be as good for the body as one might be led to believe, and that organic was a safer bet. Needless to say, the discussions continued. One day I asked my friend Brynar if he had any thoughts on how to convince her to think more in terms of organic and less in terms of natural. His suggestion, in jest, was rather simple: “Tell that horseshit is natural.”

  • Scott H. Richardson

    Earlier this year two CBC radio shows aired interviews with U.K. author and environmentalist Mark Lynas. These shows could be heard locally on VPR and NHPR.

  • Duncan Kilmartin

    Michael, Your pithy comment is worthy of Michael, the Archangel. I can only add an “Amen”!

  • James Minnich

    I congratulate the House Agricultural Committee on having the courage to stand up to the ruinous efforts by pro-GMO advocates to prevent Vermonters from knowing what is in their food. While the bill is severely weak, it is a start. This bill is not the end but the beginning for Vermont people in their struggle to have healthy food available to them and their families. Vermont is, by far, the healthiest place to live in this country. This is due largely to it’s large numbers of organic farms.

    Today, Vermont took a huge step forward towards insuring that the high quality of food in the state will continue to be available to consumers and that organic farmers will have a larger share of the market which, up till now, has been threatened by the presence of un-natural food products on grocers shelves.

  • Al Salzman

    Once again the corporatocracy rules the roost, and their well-paid minions distort and confuse. The key to the GMO conundrum is individual intelligence and choice. 99% of the stuff in the supermarket is crap so relying on local sources of food is a good idea for the reason that you can ask the farmer about his methods. The strategy of food producers labeling their products as GMO free is, I think, a good one but it does not necessarily preclude a Monsanto law suit. I do not buy most canned goods because of the use of BPA as a liner. There are companies like Eden that use BPA free labeling, so applying that to GMO’s may pull the rug from under Monsanto’s tyranical position.

  • Glad to see that the House Agricultural Committee is standing up strong and protecting Vermonters from the potential risks associated with genetically engineering. The Government’s role is to protect its citizens from risks, whether those risks are man made or natural. Scientists from around the world have established that there are risks associated with GMOS, and in fact more than 60 other countries have established labeling laws and in some countries even stricter measures to protect their citizens. I am proud that members of the committee have voted to protect us rather cower in fear that a few industry folks are grumbling with threats of lawsuits. A state has a legal right in regulating industries that pose potential threats to citizens. I expect to see that this bill move through the legislative process and becomes law this year with the governor signature.

  • Judith Persin, Registered Nurse

    I agree with Robb. A state has a legal right (and I would add, a responsibility) to regulate industries that pose potential threats to its citizens. I don’t have to ask whether or not GMOs make people sick. They started making me sick in 2009! It took me two weeks to recover from a piece of apple pie containing THREE GMOs. When I found out the first culprit was “modified cornstarch” I began an intensive study which has never ended. Many people, because there is no labeling, are not as fortunate as I to be able to trace the dirty poisons of GMOs to their health problems. And yes, I have gotten sick from farmed fish and chickens fed GMOs! I moved from Montana to Vermont to get away from GMOs. And low and behold the curse is even here in VT! Even though I am one who gets acutely ill from GMOs, from my studies and research I have learned that they make all of us sick in one way or another. The GMOS destroy the good bacteria in your gut. That bacteria is very important in maintaining healthy digestive processes. Furthermore, that good intestinal floral (which GMOs wipe out) is the first line of defense in your immune system. That fact right there means that you can end up getting any number of diseases, including cancer, because your immune system is compromised. Aside from the health issues, which should be enough to ban GMOS from the whole planet, there are many other related issues. Read “Organic Manifesto” by Maria Rodale. It will explain how planting GMOs leads to global warming. GMOS also pollute and destroy organic and traditional farming in fields planted nearby. GMOs poison not only our food; the glyphosate (Round-Up) pollutes our water supplies. Also, the evil satanic company Monsanto deserves your research. Read “My City Was Gone” by Dennis Love. You will be appalled that the US government would grant patents on seeds and life forms to a company so wicked and corrupt. The town of Anniston, Alabama was poisoned by Monsanto with PCBs. Monsanto is the same company that lied to the US government during the Vietnam War, telling them that Agent Orange was way less toxic than it actually is. With a record like Monsanto’s, how could the US government bow as they have to their wishes? Now Monsanto is suggesting the use of Agent Orange components be used on acres of croplands across the United States. That is because the weeds have become resistant to their Round-Up. So they need something more toxic. Just as Americans unknowingly now ingest Round-Up, they will soon be injesting the components of Agent Orange! Unbelievable folks–yet true! How can such an evil company get away with these things? It is simple: they have gotten into the FDA, EPA, and the USDA and THEY are making the policies for all of us. Yes, Monsanto minions have obtained prominent positions of power. Unelected officials deciding what is poison and what is not and what you and I are going to eat!
    If that doesn’t scare you–maybe this will: Monsanto’s goal is to confiscate every normal seed in the world (that includes VT) and to control all the world’s food supply. Whoever controls your food controls YOU! They have a large vault in the side of a mountain where they are hiding all the goods seeds they confiscate for themselves! When I lived in Montana, I had a friend who was an organic farmer; she had to get her seeds from Vermont! I think Vermonters feel too safe because of all our wonderful organic farms here.We must wake up NOW! WE must fight the good fight! We must resist evil and name it what it is. Monsanto plans to take all of Vermont’s seeds and shut down all of the good farms here. Please believe me! It is true. PLEASE read “The world According To Monsanto” by French researcher Marie-Monique Robin. You will never be the same again! NEVER!

  • Judith Persin, Registered Nurse

    Do you know that genetically modified organisms are not only in our foods? They are also in medications and in vaccines! You think you know what is in those? No, you don’t; because they do not have to label the components as “genetically modified”! If someone knowingly, but secretly, contaminates your food with disease-causing agents, would that qualify as an act of terrorism? If that “someone” deliberately puts those same items into the vaccines and then tricks the legislators through lies, false reports, and monetary gifts to push them onto your children saying it will improve their health, I ask you, what you would call that? Why would it not be an act of terrorism? You tell me! Must terrorism come only from outside our country?
    Biotechnology concerning GMOs is nothing more than a junk science for corporate profit, backed up by falsified tests and misinformation.
    In the 1990s scientists at the FDA expressed grave concern over putting untested GMOs into the American food supply. Their warnings were not heeded. The very existence of those warnings was later denied.
    Contrary to popular opinion, the FDA does not regulate GE foods. The company today decides which data,if any,to present to the FDA and makes the determination of safety on its own authority. It is a classic example of the fox guarding the chicken coop!
    The American Academy of Environmental Medicine in 2009 called upon doctors to warn their patients not to ingest genetically modified foods.
    A recent long-term French study proves that genetically modified corn containing Round-Up causes serious health effects including large tumors and liver and kidney damage.

    For those who want to be informed: do read “The World According to Monsanto” by Marie-Monique Robin and/or “Genetic Roulette” by Jeffrey M. smith.

    For those of you who remain convinced that biotechnology is an exact, infallible science, do ask your doctor if “cancer is right for you.”


  • Rita Wright

    All the studies on rats showed physical damage after the 4th month of consuming genetically modified food. Each month equals 2.5 human years, meaning after 10 years humans will start to become sick. In the beginning (1996) there wasn’t 90% of gmo soybeans & corn being used. Now there is. It is only a matter of time before the effects are felt. Monsanto stops their own studies after 3 months…convenient.

  • Eric Hobart