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Vermont Senate passes Farmer Protection Act

(Thursday, March 11, 2004 -- CropChoice news) -- Vermont state senators voted 28-0 on Wednesday to support the Farmer Protection Act (S.164), a bill to hold biotech corporations liable for unintended contamination of conventional or organic crops by genetically engineered plant materials. Debate before the vote included discussion of patent laws that allow Monsanto and other biotechnology corporations to sue farmers for patent infringement who are contaminated with GMO pollen or plant materials.

Senator Vincent Illuzzi (R-Essex-Orleans) illustrated cross-pollination of corn varieties with multi-colored ears of Vermont corn.

The vote came in the wake of 79 Vermont towns having passed Town Meeting measures calling on lawmakers in Montpelier and Washington enact a moratorium on genetically modified organisms; 10% of Vermont's dairy farmers who use conventional growing methods pledged not to sow genetically modified seeds.

The Farmer Protection Act was amended, by an 18-11 vote, to include language specifically targeting genetic engineering patent lawsuits. The Sears-Illuzzi amendment defines genetically engineered seeds or plant parts as different from conventional seeds or plant parts. This is unprecedented and undermines the industry's claim that transgenic products are the same as traditional products, said Amy Shollenberger, Policy Director at Rural Vermont. "The amendment says that a person who is found to have 'trace amounts' of genetically engineered material shall be indemnified by the manufacturer if they are sued. In other words, it protects a farmer from being sued by the manufacturer if the farmer's crops are contaminated with GMO material."

Shollenberger and 10 other GE Free Vermont supporters will testify to the House Agriculture Committee on today from 9 AM to 11:30 AM on a related bill on genetically engineered crops.

For more information on the the GE Free Vermont Campaign, go to http://www.gefreevt.org