Douglas expected to veto seed bill

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas is expected to veto a bill on genetically modified seeds next week.

Officials in the Douglas Administration say his veto message will include a plea to organic and conventional farmers to find common ground on this issue.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The Legislature just finished its work in Montpelier. But lawmakers will probably be back next month to consider the governor’s veto of a controversial bill on gene-altered seeds.

Organic farmers strongly support the legislation. They worry that their crops could be cross-pollinated with the genetically modified varieties.

(Stearns) “And my reason why I think it’s a valuable bill is that it rightfully places the liability for any damages that come from the unintended spread of GMO technology on the companies that own this technology.”

(Dillon) Tom Stearns is CEO of High Mowing Organic seeds in Wolcott.

The organic seed business has grown steadily, and Stearns wants the governor to acknowledge the role of organic agriculture in Vermont.

(Stearns) “I hope that if he does veto and if he does an opportunity to give a veto speech he’ll take advantage of that opportunity by promoting the fact that organic agriculture is an important part of the state’s agriculture economy and that something does need to be done about this.”

(Dillon) Administration officials say they’ve gotten the message. The governor’s spokesman says Douglas won’t give a typical veto message. He plans to talk about his respect for organic agriculture and his hope that farmers find ways to work out differences between themselves.

Agriculture Secretary Steve Kerr says co-existence is possible between organic and conventional farmers.

(Kerr) “If both sides choose to put down the weapons, and I mean rhetorical weapons, and say look farmers have coexisted in Vermont and on this planet for millennia, there’s no reason that we can’t do that in the era of organic agriculture and genetically engineered agriculture, let’s get down to it, we can see this bill and this unfortunate veto as the beginning of a brand new chapter in Vermont’s agriculture history and a very optimistic chapter, too.”

(Dillon) But the governor’s overtures may not satisfy activists on the issue. Amy Schollenberger is policy director with Rural Vermont, the group that lobbied hard for the legislation. She says thousands of people have called the governor’s office asking him not to veto the bill.

(Schollenberger) “That’s the question for Governor Douglas. Will he listen to the people of Vermont or will he listen to the multinational chemical corporation. I think if he vetoes this bill he’s clearly sending a message to the people of Vermont that democracy is not welcome in our state.”

(Dillon) The governor is expected to veto the bill on Monday.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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