It’s Our Social and Environmental Responsibility to Pass H.112 in VT

Since last year, the VT Right to Know GMOs Coalition has been working hard to connect citizens with their government and at this point it’s clear that Vermonters want labels on genetically engineered food. Over 90% of Vermonters polled wanted it, and over 7,000 Vermonters have signed our petition to get it. To date, Vermonters have sent almost ten thousand messages to their legislators in support of H.112, the GE-labeling bill that a third of the House co-sponsored. By now, every single State Representative and Senator has heard about this issue from at least one constituent. So why hasn’t the bill passed? At every step of the way, private interests have tried to throw up roadblocks that we have had to hurdle. In evaluating the bill, the House Committee on Agriculture and Forest Products heard testimony from farmers and food producers, scientists and religious authorities, doctors, lawyers, coops, and advocates from both sides of the issue.

They also heard from the Attorney General’s office about the legality of the bill. The AG said that the bill would be defensible in court, and the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic at Vermont Law School provided substantive legal research in support of the bill. The House Agriculture Committee, spurred on by the support of its constituents and detailed record of testimony on health risks and other concerns, passed the bill with an 8-3 vote on March 1st. Unfortunately, that was where it got bogged down in the legislative process. Despite the consistent calls to pass the bill from thousands of Vermonters we continued to hear the question from Representatives, “Why should Vermont go first?” The answer to that question is simple: we would not be first at all. In fact 64 countries around the world including the European Union, Japan, China, and Saudi Arabia already require GE foods to be labeled. Vermont and the rest of the country are just playing catch up.

Beyond giving consumers the information they need to make informed decisions about their health and other issues, this legislation would also help protect the “Vermont brand.” In its statement on GMOs, VBSR refers to the idea that “the word ‘Vermont’ on a label has come to indicate quality and product purity.” This perception is valuablel to our state’s food economy, and according to VBSR, “the use of GMO/GE ingredients in products produced in Vermont threatens to undercut the vitality and reputation of the Vermont brand.” A label would honestly reflect what’s in those products and may spur some companies to substitute non-GE ingredients.

It’s why we proudly label our cheeses, syrups, and beers with our state’s name and why large companies like King Arthur Flour, Cabot, and Ben & Jerry’s tout their origins on their products’ packaging. GE labeling gives us the opportunity to preserve and strengthen that brand, so that when people are buying Vermont products, they can still get the “quality and product purity” for which we’re known worldwide. And the benefits aren’t limited to Vermont brands - GE labeling would give non-VT companies the same opportunities.

In H.112, VT’s lawmakers have an opportunity to do what their citizens want and what they believe is right based on health, environmental, and other concerns. By passing this bill, our legislators would be marking yet another victory in our long history of social and environmental responsibility.

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