By Bruce Parker | Vermont Watchdog

MONTPELIER, Vt. — A GMO food-labeling bill overwhelmingly OK’d in the Senate this week may not inform consumers about what’s in their food. It will, however, expose Vermont to a possible $8 million lawsuit.

Despite the bill’s lofty aims, labels on processed foods will say only that products “may be” partially produced with genetic engineering — leaving consumers in the dark on whether foods actually contain GMO.The Senate on Wednesday voted 28-2 in favor of an amended GMO bill that requires processed food manufacturers to label products suspected of containing genetically engineered ingredients.

During the Senate report on H.112 Tuesday, the bill’s chief backers were forced to clarify the point.

“It would be quite expensive and too onerous to require every manufacturer of every product to test every ingredient to put a definitive ‘this does’ or ‘this does not’ (contain GMO),” said state Sen. David Zuckerman, P-Chittenden.

That comment raised the ire of state Sen. Margaret Flory, R-Rutland, who wondered how the bill would be of any use to consumers.

“A company doesn’t have to know if it’s GMO? They can simply put on the label, ‘This may contain GMO products’?” Flory asked.

“Sure, just like they do with other things,” Zuckerman replied. “… It’s not a requirement of any company to ascertain all the different ingredients.”

“If this law is intended to say we have a right to know what we eat, how does it achieve that if everybody can put ‘this may contain GMO’?” Flory inquired further.

“It’s really up to the product manufacturer,” Zuckerman replied.

Prior to approving the bill, senators said the state would need a legal defense fund to defend the dubious warning label in court.

“We heard testimony from the assistant attorney general that the estimate is between $5 million and $8 million should we lose and be required to pay attorneys fees and other court costs,” said state Sen. Richard Sears, D-Bennington.

The bill calls for the creation of a $1.5 million legal fund for genetically engineered food labeling. Money for the fund would be generated through settlements with the attorney general’s office, as well as from private and public donations and grants.

Sears told colleagues that constituents are lining up to support the state’s looming legal battle.

“I had one e-mail from a constituent who said, ‘Grow some backbone and vote for this bill and we’ll send you all kinds of money,’” the senator said while reporting on the bill.

State Sen. Kevin Mullin, R-Rutland, found the fund highly objectionable.

“It looks like Vermont is for sale, and that people can give a large chunk of money, and that the money can be deposited into a fund for lawsuits. I don’t recall ever opening the door like this before,” he said.

Despite controversy surrounding GMOs, H.112 doesn’t determine whether genetically modified foods present a real danger to consumers.

“The question that this bill addresses is not the safety or danger of genetically modified organisms. The question the bill addresses is the right to know,” said state Sen. Richard McCormack, D-Windsor.

“If there are people who have suspicions that GMOs are not healthy for them, even if it turns out that scientifically they are wrong — which we don’t know, because no one has ever proven their safety — it’s their bodies, it’s their right to know,” McCormack said.

Flory said she found it “disturbing” her colleagues would place warnings on foods the World Health Organization, U.S. Food and Drug Administration and American Medical Association say are safe. She was equally concerned the labels might not tell consumers that specific food items actually contain GMO.

GMO labeling is among the most popular bills in Vermont. The Castleton Polling Institute found that 79 percent of Vermonters support GMO warning labels.

Some senators who voted for the bill said they were responding to the demands of their constituents.

“I did not have my mind made up. But after weeks of testimony, it was very clear and obvious that the people we represent, who send us here, definitely wanted this bill passed,” said state Sen. Robert Starr, D-Essex-Orleans.

Others warned that Vermont was risking a legal rebuke reminiscent of the state’s crushing court loss over milk produced from cows on synthetic growth hormones.

Mullin, who ultimately voted for the bill, expressed worries over a high-stakes court battle.

“It’s troublesome that we have language creating a defense fund. It seems we should be crafting a bill that is defensible on its own merits rather than setting up a fund that will pay for possibly one more loss.”

Contact Bruce Parker at



Vermont GOP Press Release

Montpelier, Vt. — After over 700 Vermonters have lost their jobs and Vermont’s workforce has shrunk by thousands, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin Thursday finally decided that it was time to appoint a full time Secretary for the Agency of Commerce. This comes, of course, months after Governor Shumlin found it necessary to reposition his former Commerce Secretary to the Agency of Human Services in a desperate attempt to salvage the disastrous rollout of Vermont’s healthcare exchange — Vermont Health Connect. Unfortunately, Governor Shumlin’s actions yesterday are too late for those workers already impacted by the plant closures, downsizing, and company out-of-state relocations that have taken place in Vermont over the past several months.

While it is encouraging that Governor Shumlin finally sees the importance of having someone at the helm of the state’s agency in charge of jobs and economic development, it continues to be discouraging that he has offered no clear, tangible, and fully supported economic development plan for our state. His token attempt to show some initiative on the subject recently — by reciting the words contained in a House Republican economic development plan — fell short when he offered no plan to fund the very initiatives he was promoting. That’s a common theme for this Governor.

Vermonters need more than administrators and hollow economic development plans. The hundreds of newly unemployed Vermonters — and the thousands more whose jobs may be threatened in the future — need real action and a strong commitment from the Governor to growing jobs, reducing the cost of living and doing business in our state, and reviving our stagnate economy. The thousands of Vermonters who have left the state to look for work elsewhere or have given up looking for a job deserve more than this.

Aggressive plans to reduce Vermont’s tax burden — including the property tax burden, a balanced energy policy that reduces costs on families and job creators while preserving our environment, and full transparency about Governor Shumlin’s projected $2.2-billion government run healthcare tax are positive steps that could help facilitate job growth and ease the economic crisis our state is experiencing. Unfortunately, this type of courageous economic development action seems as distant as the lost jobs of hundreds of Vermonters.


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Poor state: Vermont on skid row when it comes to economic outlook

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By Bruce Parker | Vermont Watchdog If lawmakers don’t do something soon, fed-up Vermonters may just pack their things and head to Utah. That’s because Vermont has one of the worst economic outlooks in the nation according to new report that ranks states on economic competitiveness, while Utah has one of the best. When it […]

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by Rob Roper Joel Cook, the executive director for the Vermont National Education Association (VT-NEA) testified before the House Committee on Healthcare, laying out what his union expects from the legislature as it considers the details of a single payer healthcare system. Cook was quick to point out that his union has invested heavily in […]

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Minimum wage debate reveals Vermonters better off on welfare

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Report lauds Vermont for leap forward in online transparency

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By Bruce Parker | Vermont Watchdog A new report from a national federation of consumer advocacy groups ranks Vermont among the nation’s best in providing online transparency for spending. The report, “Following the Money 2014: How the 50 States Rate in Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data,” provides “A” to “F” letter grades to […]

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Activists blow cover on gun confiscation bill

April 8, 2014

By Bruce Parker Vermont Watchdog MONTPELIER, Vt. — A bill that passed the Vermont House without controversy is now in doubt after gun-rights advocates exposed provisions allowing police to take guns during domestic disputes. “It’s a highly illegal confiscation bill,” Gun Owners of Vermont president Ed Cutler told Vermont Watchdog. “H.735 is a forfeiture bill that […]

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April 7, 2014

Press Release VT GOP VT Republican Amendment to Begin Fixing Property Tax System is Soundly Defeated Montpelier, Vt. — Last week, Democrats in the Vermont House of Representatives hit working Vermonters, families, and struggling business owners with a 1-2 punch. First, they shot down –overwhelmingly along party lines — a Republican proposal to begin the […]

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