What Sen. Klobuchar got wrong about our bill

We were disappointed when Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharTim Kaine backs call to boost funding for Israeli missile defense Senate Dems push Obama for more Iran transparency Senators launch broadband caucus MORE (D-Minn.) voted to forward a bill in the Senate Agriculture Committee that could preempt our state’s genetic engineering labeling law. As lead sponsors of Vermont’s Act 120, we were further perplexed to hear the reasoning and stunning misinformation that guided her decision. 

First, Klobuchar states that the Vermont law exempts dairy from labeling, whereas laws passed in Connecticut and Maine do not. This is incorrect. All three states carry the same exemptions. All three state laws require labeling of foods with genetically engineered ingredients, and all three and the European Union countries do not require labels just because food was acquired from animals that consumed GMO feed. In contrast to Klobuchar’s comments, the word “dairy” does not appear anywhere in our bill.

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But Klobuchar does not stop there. Having incorrectly compared the three state laws, she makes the curious assertion that only Vermont exempts dairy because it is our “biggest agricultural product and there are more cows in Vermont than Connecticut and Maine.” We wish she had called us. In developing our bill, we looked to the European Union existing program that exempts these products for reasons we are happy to explain. In addition, knowing others would likely challenge our law, we made sure we were not providing advantages to Vermont businesses. 

As to Klobuchar’s concern about a “patchwork of laws,” all of the state laws that have been passed or introduced are virtually identical. States around the country interested in labeling are also looking to the Vermont law for guidance. And that is not all. In February, Quebec government representatives met with us in Vermont, as they too are considering mandatory labeling laws. Contrary to what opponent lobbyists would say, we are all working together to create a seamless system. 

And finally, we take exception to Klobuchar’s suggestion that Vermont’s lawmakers ignored the science. During the three years our law was under development, we heard from scientists and researchers on all sides of this issue. Many scientists raised concerns about, for instance, the increased use of glyphosate; the problem of seed trespass; the environmental impacts of crop monocultures; and the lack of independent, peer-reviewed and long-term studies. In addition, her statement that labeling is stigmatizing was not borne out in a recent long-term respected study at the University of Vermont or by other studies we reviewed.

Of course, we would all prefer a national mandatory labeling solution. Congress can do it. You shouldn’t have to live in Vermont to know how your food was produced.  Vermont and other states have simply grown weary waiting for Congress to act on this simple right to know. 

Webb is a Democratic Vermont state representative. Zuckerman is a progressive Vermont state senator. They were lead sponsors of Act 120: an act relating to the labeling of food produced with genetic engineering. The bill was signed into law on May 8, 2014 and goes into effect on July 1, 2016.

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