The 2012 legislative session marked a big step forward in the fight to label genetically engineered foods in Vermont. The outspoken support of thousands of Vermonters ensures that this issue will continue to be part of the political conversation through the upcoming elections, and into the next legislative session.The campaign to pass the VT Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act (H.722) taught us many lessons that we can use to become even more effective in our efforts. Most importantly, we learned that we are much stronger together than we are apart.
As a coalition we knew from day one that this campaign would not be simple or easy. We knew that we were taking on some of the largest corporate interests in the country. We also knew that similar efforts had already died in the State House without ever seeing the light of day. Knowing all this, we knew we had to take up the fight for Vermonters, and consumers everywhere.
We heard many times that over 90% of Americans want to see genetically engineered foods labeled, but we were continually surprised and invigorated by the public support for our efforts. After more than a decade of watching biotech giants take over the American food system, people have had enough. Our campaign has been fueled by these brave and vocal activists who were not afraid to stand up and say that we deserve better from our leaders, and we have a right to know what is going onto our dinner plates.
Without the voices of thousands of Vermonters calling for the labeling of genetically engineered foods, H.722 was destined to die in committee without any testimony. Legislators said again and again that they rarely receive so much positive support on any issue, and this kept the discussion about labeling GMOs alive in the State House. Though the bill did not ultimately become law, the extensive testimony heard by the Agriculture committee laid the framework for an even stronger bill next session.
During nearly a month of testimony legislators heard many reasons why Vermont can, and should require genetically engineered foods to be labeled. They heard from Dr. Michael Hansen of Consumer Reports about the prevalence of labeling worldwide, and the numerous studies indicating possible health risks of GE foods. They heard from local food producers such as Jerry Greenfield (Ben and Jerry’s), George Schenk (American Flatbread) and Jeff Weinstein (Two Guys in Vermont Soups) who discussed the importance of transparency, and accurate labeling in our food system. Most importantly, they heard from over a hundred Vermonters who unanimously testified in support of H.722 at the public hearing on April 12th. It was this testimony that ultimately convinced the House Agriculture Committee that Vermont has a legitimate interest in requiring labeling of genetically engineered.
We are all disappointed that H.722 did not become law this session, but we are also looking forward with great optimism. Not only is the issue of labeling gaining momentum here in Vermont, it is becoming part of the national political conversation. With groups like Just Label It submitting over a million comments to the FDA calling for labeling, or the California ballot initiative going in front of voters in November, this is an issue that is not going away.
We want to thank everyone who worked hard on this campaign. We are particularly grateful for all of you who came to Montpelier for the public hearing and packed the State House. We look forward to working with all of you in the months and weeks to come.
Please stay in touch with the campaign through our website: www.vtrighttoknow.org and through the campaign Facebook page Also, make sure you talk with your legislators and legislative candidates about where they stand on labeling genetically engineered food. Let them know that this an issue you care about and that you vote.