VERMONTERS VOTE AGAINST THE GENETIC ENGINEERING OF FOOD
 

by The ISE Biotechnology Project

At their annual town meetings early in March 2002, the residents of 28 Vermont towns voted overwhelmingly to show their opposition to genetically engineered food and crops. In the 31 towns that debated resolutions on genetically engineering, only one (Rochester) voted against the resolution. Two towns tabled, and the remaining 28 towns passed resolutions against genetic engineering. In the capital city of Montpelier, voters approved their resolution by a 2-1 margin (1,577-752).

Most of the resolutions included language stating that genetically engineered (GE) foods have been shown to cause long-term damage to the environment, to impair the integrity of rural, family farm economies, and to adversely impact human health. Many resolutions called upon state legislators and the Vermont congressional delegation to support labeling of GE foods and seeds, as well as to enact a moratorium on the growing of GE crops.

In addition, eight towns took steps toward ending the use of engineered crops within their towns; some declaring a town moratorium, others actively discouraging the planting of GE seeds within the town. Local moratoria and other such measures were passed in Westfield, Jamaica, Greensboro, Calais, Marshfield, Ripton, Walden, and Charlotte.

"Once again, Vermonters have spoken out through their town meetings on an issue of vital importance to our towns and all of humanity," said Heather Albert-Knopp of the Institute for Social Ecology’s Biotechnology Project, based in Plainfield. The Project provided information and support for activists who wanted to bring the resolutions to their towns. Staff members at the Vermont Genetic Engineering Action Network and the farm advocacy group Rural Vermont were also involved in the effort. 

"The more people know about genetically engineered food, the more they oppose it, but so far corporate lobbyists have prevented the state and federal governments from acting," Albert-Knopp said. "In our town meetings, however, people’s real concerns can take precedence over special interests."

"Ordinary people were pretty angry about the fact that engineered foods are not labeled," said Joey Klein, an organic farmer who presented the resolution in Plainfield. "The idea of a moratorium on planting genetically engineered crops also made sense to people because they felt they were being treated like guinea pigs." Klein explained that a moratorium was needed to protect the vast majority of farmers who choose not to plant GE crops, but are subject to genetic contamination from engineered varieties.

Susan Borg, who presented the resolution in Lincoln, said, "I don’t want GMOs (genetically modified organisms) in my food, especially because they have not been tested. Also, we can’t have GE pollen blowing into our farms. Contamination will make organic farmers lose their certification. Farms will be lost, which will hurt the property tax base. This problem affects everybody. Besides, the idea that Monsanto can sue farmers for growing crops that were contaminated with their own GE pollen—and win—is appalling."

"It’s about the freedom to govern ourselves," said Ben Grosscup, who spoke in favor of Marshfield’s resolution. "The biotechnology industry, the federal government and international bodies like the World Trade Organization are trying to make us forget that we can have that kind of freedom."

Resolutions opposing the genetic engineering of food passed in Montpelier, Calais, Marshfield, Walden, Putney, Plainfield, Woodbury, Jamaica, Lincoln, Waitsfield, Wheelock, Greensboro, Wolcott, Monkton, Ripton, Hinesburg, Randolph, Bristol, Moretown, Warren, Fayston, Marlboro, Charlotte, Westfield, Newfane, Brookline, Montgomery, and Westiminster. Starksboro passed a similar resolution at last year’s town meeting. Town select boards have previously passed such resolutions in Norwich, Guilford, and Dummerston, and the Burlington City Council has called for labeling, thorough regulation and clearer liability rules regarding GE crops and food in a resolution passed in September of 2000. 43 municipalities in the US now have resolutions against genetic engineering––33 of them are in Vermont.

For more information, contact the Institute for Social Ecology, 1118 Maple Hill Rd, Plainfield VT, 05667. Tel: 802-454-7138, email: biotech@social-ecology.org

 
 
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