GMO legislation is in Vermont Senate Judiciary Committee

CN-MR-3-GMO legislation 1by Bethany M. Dunbar

IRASBURG, VT — Farmers who don’t want to see a mandatory GMO labeling law passed in Vermont were encouraged recently to call Senator Dick Sears of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

A law requiring labels on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food has passed the Vermont House and is under discussion in the Senate.

Dairy farmers at a legislative breakfast sponsored by the Orleans County Farm Bureau March 3 said they don’t see the point of banning GMOs.

“I think you have a solution looking for a problem,” said Marjorie Urie of Craftsbury.

She said if the legislators want to attack something, they should attack the labels for soy milk.

Beverages made from soy beans are not milk, she said, and should not be called milk.

Asked why the local legislators can’t just stop the bill, Representative Mark Higley of Lowell said it’s as hard to stop something in the Legislature as it is to get something passed. “All it takes is one person,” he said, to keep a bill going that should be stopped.

Misty Koloski, a farmer and nurse from Brownington, said banning GMOs would not hurt anything; it has already been done in much of Europe.

Senator Bob Starr of North Troy said those who oppose the legislation should contact Senator Sears in the Judiciary Committee, where there is an effort to slow it down by adding some language to make sure Vermont is not the first state to pass a labeling requirement, and possibly language to say it should be put on hold until a state with at least 10 million people passes it first.

Opponents of a ban are concerned that Vermont could face a costly lawsuit if it is one of the first states to ban GMOs. Maine and Connecticut have passed a labeling law, and other states are considering it.

Along with Senator Starr and Representative Higley, Senator John Rodgers and representatives Vicky Strong, Lynn Batchelor, and Loren Shaw attended the breakfast and answered questions from farmers about pending legislation.

Senator Rodgers said he voted for a compromise bill about protecting shoreland 200 feet back from the water, essentially statewide zoning, because members of his committee agreed to amendments that he had suggested to make the bill more practical for those who own property or work on the shores of lakes.
For example, the original bill said only a six foot wide path could be created for access to the water, and Rodgers said that would not be wide enough for a pickup truck needed to haul out a dock or other such work.

“I still don’t love the bill, but I did end up voting for it,” he said.

Fred Snay of Irasburg asked why the Legislature isn’t putting its energy into protecting rivers, and Rodgers said the Legislature is going after lakeshores because they believe lakeshore property owners have money. Permits will be needed for any work to be done on lakeshores, and those permits will mean income for the state.

Starr said efforts to change Current Use and make the penalties stiffer are underway, and he expects momentum to pick up on that soon.

Starr was asked about a new federal system that is part of the farm bill, where dairy farmers can get insurance to protect their milk prices. He said the system is complicated with several options, but the important part is to sign up for the insurance plan for $100 a year. Once a farmer has done that, he or she will have decisions to make about how much of the insurance to buy. The insurance will protect farmers at times when the price of feed needed gets so close to the price of milk that there is little or no profit to be made.

A bill to allow more sales of raw, or unpasteurized, milk is also under discussion in the state Legislature.

Representative Batchelor said she has heard from a group of veterinarians who opposes allowing the sale of raw milk at farmers markets or in stores. She said those who grew up on raw milk have built up a resistance to the bacteria that others don’t have. Currently, farmers are allowed to sell small quantities directly from their farms.

Higley said his committee is looking into a bill about whether or not foresters and loggers should be licensed.

Farmers were introduced to the Vermont Farm Bureau’s new administrator, Christopher O’Keefe, and its new lobbyist, William Moore.

Moore said it’s helpful to him if farmers contact their legislators and let them know what they think about pending legislation, and he’s had good support in that way from Farm Bureau members.

Starr said it will be more and more important as time goes by for conventional commercial dairy farmers to get involved. Most recently the organic and artisan producers are doing most of the talking, he said.

“If we that support commercial dairy don’t start picking up the pace a little, it’s going to be rough sledding,” he said. “It’s very important to note that without the commercial guys you aren’t going to have any of those other things.”

Without the infrastructure and services provided by the commercial dairy industry, he said, the smaller operations would have a hard time doing business in Vermont.

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