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Vermont Senate passes GMO seed labeling and registration

(Wednesday, April 9, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- With a strong bipartisan margin of 25-3, the Vermont Senate today passed a landmark bill requiring the labeling and registration of all GMO seeds sold in the state. This is one of two bills passed at the end of March by the Senate Agriculture Committee, with the second addressing the issue of farmer liability for GMO-related damages (see below). Two additional bills, calling for food labeling and a moratorium on GM crops, have been deferred to a legislative summer study committee.

The farmer liability bill is now in the Senate Judiciary Committee, where it may face stronger opposition. Passage of either bill in the Republican-controlled House is expected to be more of a challenge, but the Senate vote was clearly influenced by many legislators getting 50-100 calls on this issue, following the passage of 37 more Town Meeting resolutions in Vermont in early March. A total of 70 VT towns, almost 30% of the state, have passed resolutions opposing GE food and crops in the past 3 years.

The Senate debate today remained tense until the very end, with the Republican Minority Leader unsuccessfully attempting to poke holes in the bill on various legalistic and technical points.

Here's Rural Vermont's summary of the 2 bills that passed the Senate Agriculture Committee on March 27th, with additional comments added:

The title of the bill now passed by the full Senate is "An Act Relating to identifying living modified organisms intended for intentional introduction into the environment" (S 182). This bill essentially does four things: (1) defines "living modified organisms" (i.e., GE seeds), based on language from the Biosafety Protocol (for legal protection from industry lawsuits, such as the one that derailed VT's rBGH labeling law in 1995); (2) requires that GE seeds be clearly labeled as such (the Ag. Commissioner gets to decide what is clear); (3) requires that manufacturers or processors who distribute GE seed in the state report on sales to the Commissioner of Ag. on how many seeds were sold (happens once/year); and (4) establishes a Legislative Committee on Genetic Engineering to "study the consequences from, and possible regulation of, use in Vermont of GE seeds and plant parts for agricultural and any other purpose"...this committee is intended to meet over the summer. (This final provision was stricken from the bill that passed today and, as required, moved into the omnibus bill covering summer study committees.)

The second bill is S164, "An act relating to liability for Genetic Engineering". This bill does four things: (1) says that anyone (including companies or seed dealers) who misrepresents or omits information about GE "characteristics, the safety, the adverse effects, or directions for use of seed or plant parts" is liable for any damages resulting from the incorrect use; (2) says any language that says the companies are not liable is unenforceable (like contracts which try to put liability on farmers); (3) says anyone who follows the directions (dealers, farmers) is not liable for damages resulting from use of GE seeds; and (4) a person who is found to have GE crops but has not intetionally planted or obtained GE seeds is not liable for copyright or patent infringement (the Percy Schmeiser scenario).

Continuing updates are available at http://www.gefreevt.org, and the full text of these bills (as well as the labeling and moratorium bills) is at http://www.leg.state.vt.us. The Maine legislature is also discussing a GE moratorium bill this year.