Volume 2 Issue 4

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Page 18 | Abby's Magazine - Rallying Vermont food-conscious grassroots was the key to passing the state's law to label genetically modified foods, and big money attempts to persuade Vermont's citizens to oppose labeling would have backfired. That is the perspective of David Zuckerman and Falko Schilling, two of the many leaders of Vermont's initiative to pass mandatory labeling. Zuckerman is a Vermont state senator and organic farmer from Chittendon County who introduced the labeling bill, H.112, into the state's senate. Schilling is consumer protection advocate for Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG), which was part of a coalition of groups called Vermont Right to Know that organized grassroots support for the bill. I recently interviewed Zuckerman and Schilling to get their perspectives on the historic legislation. How long have you been working on GMO issues? Zuckerman: For the last 15 years. We passed a GMO seed labeling law in 2004. In 2006, a Farmers Protection Act was passed that would make biotech companies liable for damages resulting from GMO contamination. But the governor at the time vetoed the bill. When was a GMO labeling bill introduced? Schilling: We first proposed a labeling bill in 2012, which raised awareness of this issue and helped build public support. That led to 50 house members co-sponsoring the bill when it was re-introduced in 2013. What were some of the key factors to get the bill passed this year? Zuckerman: This bill doesn't directly challenge what farmers can do, so the farming community was not as organized against it. The grassroots worked together and did a great job reaching out to Vermonters. We had a great (Right to Know Vermont) coalition with VPIRG, Rural Vermont, NOFA-VT (Northeast Organic Farmers Association of Vermont), and Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility. Schilling: Last summer VPIRG organized a door-to- door canvass to get state senators to support the bill. Volunteers knocked on 80,000 doors and collected 30,000 signatures. This had a huge impact and gave us a lot of momentum going into this (legislative) session. In February, 300 people filled the house chamber for a public hearing on the bill. It was a resounding show of support. We held educational events and workshops across the state. Overwhelming grassroots pressure made sure this bill got passed. We were able to tweak the language of the bill and take different interests into consideration and address a lot of concerns. Was there support from businesses? Zuckerman: Ben & Jerry's was very helpful. Chris Miller of Ben & Jerry's worked with food producers to tell them it wasn't hard to not use GM ingredients. He also met with newspaper editorial boards. It was important to get good business people to speak to editorial boards early to dispel the myths about GMOs that the opposition tries to promulgate. Schilling: Ben & Jerry's talked to food producers about their experience going non-GMO and about sourcing non-GMO ingredients. What about the Vermont citizens? Zuckerman: Individual Vermonters' support was so overwhelming. People here resent big out of state GMO Labeling: Lessons from Vermont By: Ken Roseboro Ben & Jerry's co-founder, Jerry Greenfield & Governor, Peter Shumlin unveil new Food Fight Fund flavor (Photo: Business Wire) Gov. Peter Shumlin signed the GMO labeling bill May 8, 2014 in front of an enthusiastic crowd. - Angela Evancie VPR

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