|Sample Letters to the Editor|
Here are some letters and articles (thanks to Annette Smith for compiling them!):
Label GE foods and seeds
Vermonters - especially our farmers - have a right to know whether the seeds they
buy are genetically engineered or not. There are too many questions hovering around
this particular science to rely on the biotechnology industry to voluntarily label
their seeds. Yet this is what Agricultural Commissioner Kerr and Gov.Douglas claim
S. 182 is a fair piece of legislation designed to define "modified organisms," label
them, and track their distribution. It does not limit or burden anyone's right to
sell and purchase these seeds. The bill passed in the Senate by unanimous consent,
and 70 Vermont towns passed resolutions urging the Legislature to address concern
about genetically engineered seeds. But now the bill is stuck in a House Natural
Resources Committee (it really belongs in the Agricultural Committee) where it will
perish before the end of the session unless people let Gov. Douglas know they want
this passed into law.
I have called the Governor myself and I encourage the community - particularly
farmers - to do the same. His phone number is 1-800-322-5616, or fax him at
802-828-3333. There is still time to convince the governor that seed labeling is the
fair and decent way to handle this huge wave of agri-business, particularly when
there is so much that is unresolved about the potential dangers of these seeds.
May 5, 2003
Vermonters have a right to know
I am writing in support of s.182, a bill requiring labeling of genetically modified
seed. It passed unanimously in the Senate, and is currently in the House Natural
Resources Committee. The Commissioner of Agriculture, Steve Kerr, has said that the
primary reason not to pass this bill is because industry doesnıt want it. I am
extremely uncomfortable with industryıs desires being given priority over
Vermonterıs right to know. Governor Douglas recently said ³Commissioner Kerr has his
ear to the ground and knows the needs of industry.² Please join me in calling the
Governor at 828-3333 and asking him to represent Vermonters instead of
multinational chemical companies.
Letters to the Editor
A chance to speak out
Thursday May 1, 2003
To the Editor:
Vermonters have a chance to take leadership on an issue of global significance: the
genetic modification of our seeds and the tightening corporate control over farming
Senate Bill 182 - which makes seeds that are genetically modified organisms (GMOs)
subject to labeling and reporting rules - is trapped in committee.
S.182 is a modest first step in protecting the public's interest. S.182 is a
sensible amendment to Vermont's existing seed labeling and reporting statutes,
agreed to by the biotech industry and passed unanimously by the Vermont Senate.
Does required labeling sound like an esoteric concern of a few food nuts? It isn't.
The fact that we in the U.S. are now the world's guinea pigs for GMOs - with most
GMO crops planted here while much of the rest of the world has said "no" - reflects
a weakening of our democracy.
Without prior public debate, enormous global companies have successfully pushed GMOs
here, despite mixed evidence of any benefits for farmers and despite concern over
environmental and health risks - from contamination of non-GMO crops (already
occurring) to potential allergic reactions in consumers.
Since the world already produces more than enough food, and the bane of farmers is
low prices from oversupply, risky new technology is hardly the answer. The GMO push
is coming from companies like Monsanto (responsible for 91 percent of GMO-planted
acres worldwide) who have shown, in draconian threats and lawsuits against farmers,
that their real interest is extending their control.
Living in Vermont for much of the 1990s, I witnessed the courage of Vermonters to
stand up for what's right. To date, 70 Vermont towns have passed resolutions calling
upon elected leaders to take decisive action to regulate the unchecked proliferation
of GMOs in Vermont.
Today, you have a chance to speak out for farmers, our health and the environment,
and to reclaim our democracy from the hidden influence of unelected corporate
Please call Governor Douglas to ask him to get S.182 passed by the House and signed
into law. His number is 802-828-3333.
Frances Moore Lappé
Friday, May 02, 2003 - 2:32:23 AM EST
Letters to the editor
GMO bill will protect farmers
Editor of the Reformer:
The following is an open letter to Gov. James Douglas concerning the passage of
Senate bill S.182, regarding the identification of genetically engineered seeds in
This is an excellent opportunity for you Governor Douglas, to show Vermonters that
you want to protect farmers and the citizenry at large from shortsighted decisions
about the regulation of genetically engineered seeds. Thousands of Vermonters,
including farmers, support S.182.
In other parts of the country and Canada, many honest, hard-working people have been
devastated by the misuse of genetically engineered seeds and products. S.182 has
been tailored to use wisdom to 1) define what genetically engineered seeds are; 2)
require that such seeds are labeled; and 3) require that the distribution of the
seeds be reported once a year to the commissioner of agriculture.
Those of us in favor of this bill believe it is a reasonable, compromising and fair
solution to a potentially dangerous technology being sold and distributed without
regard to genetic contamination. Once crops are genetically altered there is no
Governor Douglas, we urge you to get S.182 out of committee, passed by the House and
signed into law. Voluntary compliance to a biologically volatile issue such as
genetically engineered seeds is not acceptable. We thank you in advance for your
time and consideration.
Biotech regulation is badly needed
Editor of the Reformer:
An open letter to Gov. Jim Douglas:
In a recently published column, you wrote "Vermonters' voices are being drowned out
by powerful special interest groups who abuse the process using big money and crafty
You were referring to the permit reform legislation; however, your words could just
have easily been directed at the biotech industry genetically altering crop seeds;
an industry that has a near death-grip on Vermont's legislative process. Special
interests appear to be a bane to your permit reform bill, yet regarding Senate bill
182, a bill that would update our old seed labeling statutes and help Vermont
farmers make better informed growing choices, their presence is not only acceptable
Showing a greater concern for the biotech industry as opposed to Vermont farmers,
your agriculture commissioner, Steven Kerr, employing scare tactics, stated that if
Vermont passes a modest seed labeling and reporting bill, the industry would have to
spend untold dollars on lawyers and lobbyists to fight it. On April 24, we read
where Commissioner Kerr referred to the enactment of legislation as a "train wreck";
an unnecessary threat. Threats and intimidation are not unheard of where Monsanto is
concerned, but the position of your administration causes us to ask, "Who's in
On VPR's Switchboard program of April 22, you stated that we must be on guard
against "over-regulation." I agree. At the same time, regulation is the public
response implemented to protect the public's interests. Vermonters are calling out
to have their interests protected by regulating, in a very small way, agricultural
biotechnology; a new and possibly risky technology that may have serious
ramifications to some farmers' crops. To date, 70 Vermont towns have passed
resolutions calling for more oversight of genetic engineering. The Senate heard this
demand and passed S.182 unanimously.
Puzzling to many Vermonters in your defense of the biotech industry is this glaring
paradox. You and Commissioner Kerr say repeatedly that you would prefer voluntary
compliance as opposed to legislation. Kerr assures us that the industry has
voluntarily agreed to abide by the provisions of S.182 as proposed. Yet
inexplicably, if the provisions of S.182 become law, then the biotech industries
will spend millions to fight the same provisions they agree to have imposed? Where
is the logic in their threats?
Governor, I believe you are an open-minded and caring man and I was happy to hear
you offer high regard for Vermont's agriculture sector in your inauguration address.
I was also heartened to read recently that you value "Vermont's brand." You
rightfully acknowledge that Vermont has international recognition as a "pure food
state," and as a producer of healthful, high-quality products.
I hope you will grow mindful that biotechnology can irreparably threaten and harm
Vermont's hard-won wholesome image and our best marketing tool; the Vermont Seal of
Quality. Our economic vitality lies with sustaining and nurturing our diversified
growers and the industries that fit this image and our ability to keep farmers and
the people of Vermont informed.
Thank you for putting Vermonters ahead of the biotech industry and for supporting
April 23, 2003
A recent, well-written article by Michael Colby regarding the battle for small-scale
Vermont farmers, in which he points out that Gov. Jim Douglas' wife's "family farm"
is actually the antithesis of the small family farm spurred a counterpoint from a
reader in your weekly mail ["Letters," Feb. 26].
The debate is a good one, but both sides are missing the elephant in the room: Why
are we (both federally and locally) spending so much money to subsidize these
"family farms"? Dairy farms are not endemic to the Vermont way of life. All Vermont
politicians and all of the Vermont media are constantly sucking up to these families
because they think these farmers are the only "real Vermonters." (They are not.)
Yes, I think it's sad every time a farmer has to auction off his land and cattle,
and then The Burlington Free Press and every single news channel covers the tragedy
like it's the end of the world. But taxpayers should not have to pay to keep them in
business, consumers across the country should not have to put up with price-fixing
on Vermont dairy products to pay for this archaic lifestyle, and we should not
pretend there's something magical about dairy farms. I say, enough is enough!
Stop pandering and move on to something that matters. Let's start subsidizing (with
both federal and local money) businesses that actually have a future hope of
profitability and can gainfully employ Vermonters for years to come.
Letter to editor
May 6, 2003
Getting control of modified seed
Last week the Rutland Herald published a comprehensive article on Senate bill 182,
which would require the labeling and registration of genetically engineered (GE)
seeds in state of Vermont. This bill passed the Senate with a 25-to-3 vote. Having
been quoted in that article, we would like to clarify two key points.
First, genetic engineering is not only an issue of concern for organic farmers. Both
conventional and organic farmers are distressed about the environmental consequences
associated with genetically engineered crops, as well as liability issues resulting
from the inevitable cross-pollination with non-GE crops. Genetic engineering is a
very new technology and only a small percentage of conventional farmers in Vermont
use GE seed. The Vermont Department of Agriculture has estimated that only 10-15
percent of corn grown in Vermont is genetically modified, but there is no reliable
data on this.
When Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser (a conventional canola and wheat grower) was
here in February, he told hundreds of Vermonters throughout the state his story of
being sued by Monsanto. His only ³crime² was having Monsantoıs GE canola pollen
drift onto his land, contaminating his canola crop. Any farmer can be sued by
corporations like Monsanto if their crops cross-pollinate with genetically modified
crops because these corporations hold strict patents on GE seeds.
Secondly, in the last three years, 70 towns in Vermont (29 percent of the state)
have passed resolutions against genetic engineering, urging the labeling of GE
foods, corporate liability and a moratorium on GE crops. The resolutions went far
beyond supporting organic farming. Over 200 Vermont farmers have signed letters
supporting a moratorium on the cultivation of GE crops and many of these farmers are
conventional farmers, including the chair of Rural Vermontıs board, Dexter Randall,
who has been articulate spokesperson on genetic engineering since the struggles
against rBGH in Vermont in the early 1990s.
We appreciate the Rutland Heraldıs continuing efforts to bring this story to the
Friday, April 25, 2003
Nearly half of Vt. seeds altered
By TRACY SCHMALER Vermont Press Bureau
MONTPELIER The percentage of seeds sold in Vermont that are genetically altered is
much higher than state officials had previously anticipated, according to figures
released Thursday by the Vermont Department of Agriculture.
Almost half of all seeds sold to Vermont dealers 44 percent are genetically
modified by the manufacturers, Agriculture Commissioner Stephen Kerr told the House
Agriculture Committee Thursday.
³It was a surprise. We thought it was much lower,² he said.
Although the state just started tracking the figures, officials had previously
believed genetically modified seeds comprised roughly 10 percent or so of all seeds
sold in Vermont.
The information Kerr provided to legislators does not track the seeds that are sold
to Vermont farmers, rather the seeds sold to Vermont dealers. But Kerr and others
suggested the percentage of seeds sold in state that wind up being planted here is
likely within the same range, give or take those seeds sold out of state.
Kerr was before the committee to oppose a bill that would require manufacturers of
genetically modified seeds to label their products.
The most common crop is corn, particularly corn fed to cows. Corn seeds represent 39
percent of all seeds sold. Of the total genetically modified seeds sold to Vermont
dealers, 88 percent are genetically modified corn seeds, according to the figures.
³This is huge,² said Rep. David Zuckerman, P-Burlington. ³We thought it was
significantly less than that.²
Based on the figures released Thursday, Zuckerman said it was likely that roughly 40
percent of corn crop in the state comes from genetically altered seeds.
Zuckerman, an organic farmer, has been trying to push through a bill mandating
labeling. A similar measure passed the Senate earlier this year. But it is not
likely to make it through the House, where it has significant opposition.
³Itıs not a priority right now,² said House Speaker Walter Freed, R-Dorset, noting
some concerns raised by farmers and others about government mandates..
It has also drawn opposition from the Douglas administration.
Kerr told lawmakers that the administration prefers a voluntary arrangement, whereby
manufacturers report their sales to the department and work with state officials to
inform farmers about those seeds.
Manufacturers have agreed to voluntary reporting, but would oppose a law mandating
it, Kerr said.
³The advantage to Vermonters (of a voluntary agreement) is we will have the outcome
that both sides of the issue like,² he said. ³If the process follows the legislative
route, there is enough opposition to statutory regulations that we will have a train
Croplife America, an association of seed manufacturers, has been working with the
administration to work out a voluntary arrangement.
Producers say they have already begun providing the state with their sales
information, which generally they keep private for competition purposed.
But some lawmakers questioned why manufacturers would on the one hand support
reporting, but oppose a law requiring them to.
³I donıt see any commitment on their part at all,² said Rep. Floyd Nease, D-Johnson,
a member of the House Agriculture Committee.
Kerr agreed that the state department could not guarantee the reporting under the
voluntary agreement as a law would. But he said he preferred giving producers that
³This is the perfect answer,² he said. ³If they donıt comply voluntarily in the next
seven months, we still have the second leg of the biennium to pass a bill
Contact Tracy Schmaler at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Seeds of Discontent
BY KEN PICARD
(bi-weekly published 04.30.03)
"We're working on a conspiracy of goodwill.'" That's how Vermont Agriculture
Commissioner Steve Kerr described his recent meeting-of-the-minds with CropLife
America, a trade and lobbying group that represents 83 manufacturers of
genetically-modified organisms (GMOs). Kerr is urging state lawmakers to accept a
deal with the biotech firms whereby they would voluntarily reveal the quantity of
genetically-engineered seed sold in Vermont each year.
Kerr's comments came during an April 18 meeting of the House Natural Re-sources
Committee. The committee was discussing Senate bill 182, which proposes those
companies be required to provide that sales information and label all
"genetically-engineered" seeds sold in the Green Mountain State.
If enacted, the law would be the first of its kind in the nation. On April 9, the
Senate passed the bill by a wide margin - only three senators voted against it. Such
overwhelming support for the bill, which surprised even its backers, reflects
growing public support in Vermont for more information about the spread of
transgenic crops. In the last three years, 70 Vermont towns have passed resolutions
calling for government oversight of GMOs.
"There's a fair interest in knowing what genetically-modified seeds are sold in
Vermont and in what volumes," Kerr acknowledged. But right now, the commissioner
says, voluntary reporting is the way to go, without labeling standards. "Ob-viously,
the companies are going to argue that they disclose what needs to be disclosed,"
Kerr told committee members. "I don't mean to be flippant, but I get the sense
sometimes that the folks on the other side would like to see a skull and crossbones
on the label. Somewhere in between is the truth."
Committee members who oppose S.182 argue that the bill is "the camel's nose under
the tent" leading to more restrictions on Vermont farmers, who are already
struggling to remain competitive. "I would be suspicious that if we pass this one,
next year we'll have two or three more bills waiting in the wings," said Rep. Phil
Bartlett (RDover). "This bill might be reasonable. The next one might not be."
Others warned that mandatory GE seed labeling would make Vermont farmers and seed
distributors vulnerable to "genetic blacklisting" or worse, GMO-friendly growers the
targets of vandalism by eco-terrorists.
But proponents argued that such fears are unfounded, since the annual reporting
process wouldn't disclose which farmers buy the GE seeds - only how much of it is
being planted here. Last week, the ag commissioner revealed that about 44 percent of
all crops grown in Vermont are genetically modified, a figure higher than was
As for genetic blacklisting, GE crops are already taboo in many of the world's
agricultural markets. The European Union has already put the kibosh on GMOs, as have
many Asian countries. While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration must approve all
GE crops before they're sold for human consumption - at least 40 transgenic crops
are grown in the United States already - neither the states nor the federal
government track their sale or distribution. But it's estimated that 60 to 70
percent of all processed foods on American supermarket shelves contain at least one
genetically altered ingredient.
If anyone is concerned over lost revenue, it's Vermont's certified organic farmers,
who represent the fastest-growing sector of the farm economy. In fact, S.182 is a
scaled-down version of a more comprehensive bill that would have also made GE seed
manufacturers liable for damages caused by the migration of their seed. This
"genetic drift" cost Saskatchewan canola farmer Percy Schmeiser his livelihood in a
major lawsuit with Monsanto and made him the international poster child of the
anti-GMO movement. The Legislature is expected to study the liability issue this
GMO opponents also aren't buying Commissioner Kerr's spin on the manufacturers'
motives. "I think there is a pretty strong track record of dragging of feet and a
desire not to have this information out there," said Rep. David Zuckerman
(PBurlington), an organic vegetable farmer who sits on the Natural Resources
Committee. "If there's nothing to hide, what's the harm of having this as a
statute?" Zuckerman wonders why the biotech industry would comply with a voluntary
agreement when it's been fighting it tooth and nail as a legislative mandate.
Kerr suggested that this voluntary measure would head off the inevitable assault on
Montpelier by agribusiness lawyers and lobbyists. "The companies have made it very
clear they will spend untold dollars to defeat legislation," Kerr said. "I'd rather
pursue it this way than get into a knock-down, drag-out battle and have Monsanto et
al. bringing in the big guns because they've decided they've got to stop this in
Vermont before it spreads."
That argument doesn't hold water with Amy Shollenberger, policy director for Rural
Vermont, a statewide advocacy group that supports tougher regulations of GMOs. "I
find it really appalling that the commissioner of agriculture is giving as a reason
not to pass a bill that the industry doesn't want it," Shollenberger said. "I would
question whether his priorities are in the right place."
Conspiracy theorists might also be speculating about why a bill that deals with
farmers and seeds was referred to the Natural Resources Committee, rather than the
Agriculture Committee. As one lobbyist suggested privately, perhaps it's because
seven of the 11 Ag Committee members are Democrats, while six reps on the 11-member
Natural Resources Committee are Republicans, and Gov. Jim Douglas says the bill
isn't a priority this session. House Speaker Walter Freed didn't return repeated
phone calls from Seven Days. But Natural Resources Committee Chairman Bill Johnson
offered one theory: "Well, this bill is about natural resources."
Natural? Not really. That's the whole point.