By Ross Sneyd, Associated Press Writer
MONTPELIER, Vt. -- Senators venturing into the emotional arena
of genetically engineered plants and seeds were treated Wednesday to a
lesson on the reproductive habits of corn.
Along the way, they agreed to tighten the rules for how lawsuits
regarding such plants should be handled in the state's courts.
Sen. Vincent Illuzzi, R-Essex-Orleans, strode into the ornate Senate
chamber with an armful of corn, most of it still in its husks, that a
lawyer on the Legislature's staff had provided him.
He explained how important the tassels on maturing corn are because
each silky strand captures pollen and carries it to individual kernels
on the cob. But, he said, those strands can capture the pollen of a
different strain of corn, causing the ear to cross pollinate.
Illuzzi demonstrated that with an ear made up primarily with bluish
kernels but which had white and yellow kernels sprinkled throughout.
"It would not be unusual to find pollen in one field or section of the
valley being carried by winds to another part of that valley," he said.
That demonstrates the problems with genetically engineered corn, he
said. Pollen from the GE corn can be picked up on the wind and carried
to a field planted with conventional or organic corn. It then
pollinates with those strains of corn.
Some farmers consider that contamination of the crop they intended to
raise. And some manufacturers of the genetically engineered seed
suggest it might be theft because farmers are supposed to sign
contracts and pay a premium for the GE seed.
The Senate sought to deal with both of those issues.
First, noting that manufacturers of genetically engineered seed
require farmers planting it to sign a contract, they adopted a
provision of the bill requiring that if there is a legal dispute, the
contract must be governed by the laws of Vermont. Any contractual
disputes would have to be settled in Vermont courts.
The bill also requires manufacturers to defend farmers using their
product if the seed was used as directed.
What caused more difficulty, however, was a provision that was
intended to protect farmers who do not use genetically engineered
seeds. It would require manufacturers who sued them because trace
amounts of GE seeds were found in their fields to cover their legal
But Sen. John Bloomer, R-Rutland, questioned the purpose.
"We're telling people who want this bill that it's going to help
them," he said. "It's not."
"It gives a false sense of security," added Sen. John Campbell,
Their point was that federal patent and copyright law would trump the
proposed Vermont law.
Others, however, said the idea would have to be tested in court and it
was important to make the effort. "It's catching up with technology
and it's time we did that," said Sen. Virginia Lyons, D-Chittenden.
"This begins to address some of these larger issues relative to
genetic engineering and genetically modified organisms."
Besides, Illuzzi added, it would go a long way toward protecting the
image of wholesomeness that has come to be associated with Vermont
"It sends a message across America (that) Vermont will do whatever it
can ... to produce, process and sell the very best we can offer," he