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Excerpt: "Vermont's governor has 2 weeks to stand with 90 percent of his constituents who favor labeling genetically engineered foods, or cave to Monsanto."

90 percent of citizens in Vermont support mandatory labeling for genetically engineered foods. (photo: Friends Eat)
90 percent of citizens in Vermont support mandatory labeling for genetically engineered foods. (photo: Friends Eat)

Is Vermont's Governor Surrendering to Monsanto?

By Will Allen, Ronnie Cummins, AlterNet

20 April 12


ermont Governor Peter Shumlin has less than two weeks to either stand with the 90 percent of his constituents who support a mandatory labeling bill for genetically engineered foods - or cave in to Monsanto's threat to sue the state if legislators pass H.722.

If the Governor's words this past week are any indication, he's already surrendered to Monsanto. But Vermonters, not known for backing down from a fight, are challenging legislators to take on the biotech industry. They're even offering to raise money for the state's defense.

Last week thousands of Vermonters flooded the Governor's office with petitions, phone calls and emails, to make the case for GMO labeling of all food sold in Vermont and to demand a vote on the bill. Under Vermont's constitution, the Governor can extend the state's legislative session indefinitely, ultimately forcing a vote on the bill. If he doesn't extend the session, or urge legislators to vote on the bill, it will die in committee.

But while supporters were emailing and phoning and signing, Governor Shumlin was sending out a canned response to the thousands of supporters who emailed his office. In the Governor's own words:

Dear Friend,

Thank you for contacting me about labeling genetically modified foods. I agree with those who advocate for clear labeling of genetically modified foods. GMO labeling makes sense and would give Vermonters key information about their food choices. However, we know from attempts to pass similar legislation in the past that such a requirement would not stand up to federal legal scrutiny. I don't think it is fair to ask Vermonters to bear the burden of the cost of those legal challenges...

On April 12, in the hope once again of forcing a vote, more than 300 people packed the Vermont statehouse for public testimony on H.722, with more than one hundred of them testifying - every single one in favor - of passing the bill. When legislators brought up the burden of a potential legal battle, supporters of the bill called for a legal defense fund - not a retreat.

However, a bill that once appeared destined to pass on the merits of scientific evidence, overwhelming public support, and support of the majority of Vermont's progressive legislators, now appears doomed - unless Vermont voters succeed in changing the Governor's mind.

A brief history of Vermont H.722

In mid-December, a coalition of farmers and Vermont NGOs asked the state to revive a GMO labeling bill that in 2011 had stalled in the house agricultural committee. Supporters proposed revising the bill's language to conform to language in a similar bill currently being proposed in California, through a citizens' ballot initiative process. Both Carolyn Partridge, chairman of the House agricultural committee, and Will Stevens, a member of the agriculture committee, responded favorably. Several legislators stepped forward to sponsor and co-sponsor the bill.

Despite the support of Partridge, Stevens and the majority of Vermont voters, the committee didn't even begin hearings on the bill until March. Finally, during the first round of testimony the legislature heard from pro-labeling witnesses including organic farmers concerned about seed contamination, consumers worried about food safety, and scientists who refuted Monsanto's claims that genetically engineered food is perfectly safe. Still, no vote. Instead, the committee called for more hearings.

Although Partridge publicly voiced support, privately she told Andrea Stander, executive director of Rural Vermont, that H.722 was a "hot potato" that she got "stuck" with because no other committee wanted to host it, according to Stander.

How does a bill backed by strong scientific evidence and 90 percent of the voters become a "hot potato"? When Monsanto threatens to sue the state if it passes. It's now common knowledge that Vermont officials are worried about the cost of a legal battle with Monsanto. Last week, the online newspaper reported: "Rachel Lattimore, a Washington, D.C.-based lawyer who has represented the Biotechnology Industry Association, Monsanto, and other biotechnology companies, told the committee and one of its attorneys that Vermont would face a lawsuit from the industry if it passed this bill."

Monsanto's intimidation tactics appear to have succeeded. However, Vermont voters continue to pressure Governor Shumlin to sit down with his lawyers and the lawyers who drafted Bill H722 to determine, after a careful legal analysis, if he wants to promote the bill or obstruct it.

In support of Vermont farmers and consumers, the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) has launched its own offensive, in the form of a legal defense fund for Vermont and any other state Monsanto threatens to sue over mandatory GMO labeling laws. The OCA is a nationwide organization of organic farmers and consumers that has fought for consumers' right to know about GMOs for more than a decade. According to Katherine Paul, OCA fundraising coordinator, "Over the past four days we've already received commitments of more than $50,000 to defend Vermont or any other state that passes a GMO labeling bill. The only way to back down a legal bully like Monsanto or the Biotechnology Industry Organization is with a bigger legal stick and the moral high ground. Let's make sure we have both of those."

Fifty countries have passed GMO labeling laws, in large part based upon peer-reviewed studies suggesting that GMO crops and foods are hazardous to animal and human health and the environment. Recent GMO feeding studies have found liver abnormalities in 30.8 percent of the female test animals, kidney abnormalities in 43.5 percent of the male test animals, and a thickening of the stomach lining in almost all the tests. These results and results from numerous other tests were troubling enough for all these other countries to label genetically engineered foods so that there was traceability and so that consumers could make a choice.

Currently in the U.S., consumers are not allowed to choose whether they want to be part of a vast GMO feeding experiment. If they become ill or have an allergic reaction to a food product that has been genetically engineered, they cannot trace it back to the source. Consumers have no way of knowing which foods contain genetically modified ingredients and which do not. Most have no idea that 75 percent or more of non-organic processed foods do contain GMOs. Even fewer understand that thousands of foods labeled or advertised as "natural" or "all natural" contain genetically modified ingredients.

Vermont, perhaps more than any other state, has traditionally done the right thing to protect its citizens and the environment. This time fear of Monsanto and the other gene giants has sapped the courage and commitment of the current Governor and the legislature.

Please call Governor Shumlin (802 828-3333) and tell him to stand up to Monsanto bullying. Tell him to publicly speak out and encourage the House and Senate to speed up the review process, pass the GMO labeling bill, and sign it before the legislative session ends on May 1.

And please support the OCA's "Millions against Monsanto" campaign so that Governor Shumlin and all the other states can feel secure in fighting Monsanto in court. If the Governor and legislators surrender now, they will perpetuate claims that progressive politicians are good at promising change, but lack the backbone to follow through on their rhetoric. If they show real courage and pass H.722, they will send a strong message to Monsanto and Big Biotech that the growing Millions against Monsanto movement will do whatever it takes - including mounting a legal defense - to stop the corporate bullying and take back our food supply. your social media marketing partner


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+61 # USA2012??? 2012-04-20 13:38
Think about it: if 90% of Vermont's constituents support labeling how can the Governor not respect their wishes? Therefore, there has to be something that is not being disclosed in this article. What is it that Monsanto-or a representative of Monsanto-is doing to make the Governor consider going against his constituency wishes? Doesn't sound like any kind of democracy I was taught in school: more like strong arming!
-18 # Bodiotoo 2012-04-20 16:08
I thought the Governors letter stated his reason. The challenge expected in court and expected to over the law and the $$$$s associated with defending th ebill/law. Did you read the article or stop once you realized th egovernment would be opposed? Did I miss something?
+18 # hutlee 2012-04-20 16:59
Funny how corporate money can sway a politician's POV, even when said politician is facing reelection. Do I go against my constituents values and my own in order to secure my financial future, or do I do the will of the people and my on convictions?
I suspect three quarters (maybe more)of the politicians will take the money and all the way to the Cayman Islands and their secretive off shore banking system. Yep, a large stash of cash makes swallowing your pride so much easier.
+33 # Doggone 2012-04-20 13:59
BULLIES!! MONSANTO are BULLIES! Organic Consumers Association is raising money for the defense of Vermont. If you want to help out go to OCA online and help the cause to defeat the BULLY. Vermont needs us, we need us!
+26 # lmmaloney 2012-04-20 14:02
I was one of the 100+ who testified at the State House on April 12. But I understand the Governor's hesitancy to take on another big bully at this moment. VT is currently appealing a federal judge's ruling that is allowing Entergy Vermont Yankee (our 49+-year-old Fukushima-type nuclear power plant) to keep operating in spite of state law on the ground of federal preemption -- that only the NRC has the right to worry about whether a nuclear plant is safe. One such lawsuit at a time is all and more than all we can support. But I wonder who's next. Will the billboard lobby claim that our ban on billboards violates the right to free speech?
+43 # Reductio Ad Absurdum 2012-04-20 14:03
The issue comes down to this: Who is going to decide what is best for America? "We the people" or "They the corporations?"
+36 # hans 2012-04-20 14:06
Exactly, USA2012. Apparently 'democracy' is restricted to the idea that ONCE you enter the store, or the marketplace, THEN you have 'free choice.' But if you actually try to control the reality you live in, if you actually try to shape the world through collective action, it gets labelled 'socialism' or something. Do only billionaire corporations get to have democracy?
Stand tough, Vermont!
+31 # Pallas 2012-04-20 14:18
How about requiring anything produced originally by Monsanto to be labeled as such? "Grown by..." or some such. Then citizens can boycott all Monsanto-grown produce.

It defeats my why the labeling of genetically modified food cannot stand up in court. I would think the states had the right to regulate such things. The federal government can certainly require health labels on products. However, if that is the case, then identifying the source of the produce can do the trick - not the company that is selling it retail, but the company that grew it in the first place. One can just assume that anything Monsanto produced was genetically modified. If some of their stuff isn't, so much the better. A mass boycott would be good for them.
+18 # wsh 2012-04-20 15:29
I like your idea as a way to circumvent the Federal laws prohibiting GMO labelling.

Monsanto must be the only mega-corporatio n that DOESN'T believe that the so-called "free markets" are best left to decide whether a product succeeds or fails...oh wait, they're all like Monsanto, protecting their hidden subsidies and giving lip-service to "free market capitalism".
+12 # lmmaloney 2012-04-20 18:23
Interestingly enough, OCA found a statement by Monsanto from 20 or so years ago when they were first introducing their Frankenseeds in which they claimed to be proud to label them because they were superior!
+14 # Bodiotoo 2012-04-20 16:10
I like it. Label: Produced by Monsanto...and then don't but it.
+23 # Annalois 2012-04-20 15:54
Please! Not Vermont! Please do not surrender to these evil and very dangerous men at Monsanto. They are going ruin our Democracy and have already done terrible thing to other countries.
+14 # BLBreck 2012-04-20 17:14
Hm, perhaps it's time to write companies that use GMO's/Monsanto say Frito Lay, you can bet their corn chips have GMO corn.... probably any large selling national brand uses GMO corn...Wesson Corn oil, anything with high fructose corn syrup in it...Pepsi, Coke... it worked to get them to drop ALEC... so why can't we get them to drop GMO corn? Monsanto might knuckle under to a campaign like that...better labeling than our buyers dropping us!
+20 # walt 2012-04-20 17:34
A wonderful example of the corporate power than owns and operates our government. Here we see a corporation so powerful that they can threaten 90 % of the people of a state and its governor. Something wrong with this picture?

I hope the governor stands firm and takes them on. They are already being sued in Europe. Maybe a nation-wide boycott here might follow if they sue the state of Vermont. Count me in!
+9 # jwb110 2012-04-20 17:37
Limit State Farm Subsidies to those farmers who do not use GMO seed.
+15 # FLAK88 2012-04-20 18:20
This is ridiculous ! In European nations, it's the law of the land that GMO must be labeled. What's wrong with this country ? I'm so sick of this place; if the US Dollar/Euro ever come reasonably close I'm getting the #@%& out of here !
+2 # tim 2012-04-20 18:22
There is no justice possible while Vermont is part of the U.S.!!! check out the website
+12 # Willman 2012-04-20 19:02
The way corporations (actually people) are one would expect Monsanto's logo and name all over the place. Its called marketing/advertising.

Time for a citizens referendum in Vermont. Start gathering signatures.
+15 # Eliza D 2012-04-20 20:10
Yes, we need citizen's referendum. While waiting for labeling, we should boycott all Monsanto food. Sorry, that means virtually no packaged food, unless it's labeled organic. Go to Monsanto's own website and see what they put in their food. We are warriors. We can take our control of food back if we stand our ground (no pun intended).
+10 # E-Mon 2012-04-21 00:03
I like the point someone made.... If GMO is so great you'd think they'd be smearing all the boxes and cans and bottles with their logo. The very fact that they don't want anyone to know, and are willing to spend whatever it takes to fight it in court, speaks volumes.
+9 # Windy126 2012-04-21 08:59
Interestingly I had a conversation the other night who told me that his parents started using Monsanto seed back in the '50,s. He opposed it them and is still opposing it. There are seed companies out there that guarantee no GMO seed. I order from them. We are killing our earth with all of this junk. Bees are dying and who know how many other beneficial insects are endangered. No pollinators no food simple as that. We had so many wild bees that our trees hummed in the spring. Now they are silent and our garden is not producing like it used to. I am adding plants to attract beneficial insects and hoping it will help.
+1 # davebeing 2012-04-24 19:03
0 # Elizaljenn 2012-04-29 07:27
This is not the solution but some may find it helpful in avoiding foods that use GMO:

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