|Farmers Fight for Protections from GMOs and corporate lawsuits|
Contact: Amy Shollenberger (802) 793-1114
Doyle Canning (802) 999-7502
Montpelier—Rural Vermont farmers and supporters rallied this week for a final push on S.164, the “Farmer Protection Act,” a bill to protect all farmers from the liabilities associated with the drift of genetically engineered crops. The hotly debated, first-in-the-nation bill, sponsored by Senator Vincent Illuzzi (R, Essex-Orleans), indemnifies the corporate manufacturers of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in cases of patent infringement lawsuits brought against Vermont farmers.
“The Farmer Protection Act makes the corporations who own the patents on these new seeds liable for the damages they may do to farmers who choose not to grow them, whether they be organic or conventional” said Amy Shollenberger, policy director at Rural Vermont. “This last week has been a battle at the legislature to win protections from predatory corporate lawsuits for Vermont farmers.”
Farmers and anti-GMO activists planted a giant “SOLD” sign on the statehouse lawn Thursday to protest the governor’s pro-agribusiness agenda, and then marched into the House chamber to incite action on the Farmer Protection Act. The 25 demonstrators, each dressed in red, sat side by side in the Senate chairs at the front of the chamber and held up letters to spell out “1 contaminated farm is 1 too many!” The demonstrators also handed “pink slips” to the vocal opponents of farmer protection on the House agriculture committee, including Ruth Towne (R-Berlin) and Bobby Starr (D-Troy).
Despite inaction by the House Agriculture committee to bring the measure to the Floor, the bill is moving in many other arenas in Montpelier. The Farmer Protection Act is attached to a bill regarding trial by jury, which is in conference committee with Senators Sears (D-Bennington), Campbell (D-Windsor), and Illuzzi (R-Essex/Orleans), and House Members Flory (R-Pittsford), Baily (R-Hyde Park), and Gervais (D-Enosburg).
The bill was also offered on the Senate floor on Thursday morning as an amendment to a bill regarding technical assistance for farmers and agricultural liability. After a round of heavy lobbying by Monsanto representatives, the amendment was found not to be “germane” and was withdrawn.
The Farmer Protection Act also sits in House Natural Resources committee, chaired by Representative Bill Johnson (R-Canaan). On Friday morning Representative Floyd Nease (D-Johnson/Eden) made a motion to “relieve” the natural resources committee of the bill and move it onto the House floor. In a narrow defeat—68 nays to 60 yays—s.164 was kept in Johnson’s committee for the time being.
Rural Vermont and other pro-family farm Vermonters are urging lawmakers to pass the Farmer Protection Act before the biennium ends next week. “GMO crops are going in the ground now. Today,” said Dexter Randall, Rural Vermont board chair and conventional dairy farmer from Troy. “What is Montpelier going to do about the fact that contamination is going to happen, and non-GMO growers are going to face losing their markets? We need this protection and we need it now.”
Rural Vermont is a non-profit advocacy organization dedicated to defending small family farms, and has been working for economic justice and a sustainable future in Vermont’s rural communities since 1985.