GMO Labeling Efforts at State and National Levels

19 April 2012

GMO, public policy

By Jessy Gill, CFJC Volunteer Intern

The Vermont House Agricultural Committee is dragging their feet on passing a legislative bill that would require labeling all Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) in the State of Vermont. Five out of six of the Committee members are in favor of the bill, and they have received immense support in favor of the bill. However, they continue to schedule public hearings to draw out the process in hopes the proposal will be dismissed by the end of the legislative session, May 1st. Why draw out a process that has so much support? One word: Monsanto.

One of our staff members at CFJC heeded the call to action, and called the office of Vermont Governor Peter Schumlin. Special Assistant to the Governor Susan Allen responded to the call and held a very cordial conversation in respect to the obstacles Vermont is facing. Allen reported that Monsanto is threatening to sue Vermont if they pass the law, and their bullying techniques are working, making the State very nervous to move forward. Vermont is looking at $300 million if Monsanto sues them, excluding the fees they would pay if Monsanto wins the case.

Vermont may have reacted differently to Monsanto’s threat had they not recently tackled another corporation. Vermont challenged the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant in 2010. The Vermont Senate voted 26 to 4 against the Plant’s re-certification due to proven radiation leaks. However, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) declared this decision was not within State ruling, and relicensed the Nuclear Plant to run for another 20 years. Vermont appealed the Federal Court’s decision, and lost. As a result, Vermont State government is obligated to pay Entergy’s (Yankee Nuclear’s owner) attorney fees and costs, mounting to $4.62 million. As Allen stated, this is a huge factor in Vermont’s lack of vigor to go up against Monsanto, the most hated corporate monster in the World.

It’s a given that Monsanto would be against Vermont’s GMO Labeling laws because they manufacture GMO seeds and products. However, does that give the corporation a right to threaten to sue Vermont if the law were to pass? Especially given that the people of Vermont have spoken and they want to know what’s in their food. Monsanto is leveraging the depressed state of our economy and the small size of Vermont to their benefit by threatening costly legal processes on a state that does not have the funding to support a legal battle.

Allen thanked us for calling and stated that she wished a larger state, such as California, could take the lead on the GMO legislation at the state level. Allen also mentioned national legislation should be made to protect smaller states like Vermont in this pursuit. The Just Label It (JLI) campaign tried to push the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to take this action. Last month, in just 180 days, the JLI campaign was able to reach a record 1 million signatures from Americans across the country in support of GMO labeling, calling for a legal response by the FDA. In the letter the FDA sent to the JLI campaign, the FDA stated they had “not made a decision yet and when they did they would let us know.” So although the FDA responded, as required by law, they completely dismissed more than a million Americans who had advocated for change and the right to know what is in their food.

Between Vermont’s inabilities to move forward on State legislation due to lack of funding, and the FDA’s refusal to address the issue on a National level, it seems the result for GMO labeling is grim. Polls have shown that 90% of Americans want to know when they are eating genetically modified animals or plants. Although JLI has already garnered a record breaking number of signatures in only 180 days, all 1 million were still only viewed as one submission to the FDA. The JLI campaign submitted its petition as a single document, counting as only one of a reported 394 comments in the eyes of the FDA. The other 393 were individuals contacting the FDA on their own accord. What else can be done to grab our legislator’s attention?

First: Do not give up on Vermont! Call Governor Schumlin at 802-828-3333, or email at GovernorVT@state.vt.us

Second: the Just Label It campaign is collecting signatures to send a second petition to the White House, for review by the President. They need 25,000 signatures in the next 30 days. Visit their website and sign the petition here.

Third: Come on California!! The Bay Area is looked at as the hub for food justice initiatives in the Country. Is there a way we can partner with Vermont on State legislation and take on Monsanto?

Let us know your thoughts! Email Lotta at lchan@cafoodjsutice.org or Jessy at jgill@cafoodjustice.org with your thoughts on future actions you think should be done to work toward labeling our food

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