Genetically engineered seed bill faces opposition

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(Host) House and Senate negotiators have reached an agreement on legislation to protect organic farmers from having their crops pollinated by genetically engineered seeds.

But the proposal faces some strong opposition before it becomes law.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) This bill has divided the House and the Senate for more than a year.

The key issue is who should be legally responsible for damages caused to an organic farm if GMO seeds from a nearby farm drift and cross pollinate the organic crops.

Last year the House passed legislation allowing the organic farmer to seek damages from the neighboring farm using existing consumer protection laws.

The Senate went further giving the farmers the authority to sue the seed manufacturers.

Under the compromise, farmers who suffer more than 3500 dollars in damages would be able to seek compensation from the seed companies using the state’s private nuisance laws – these are laws that are often used in land use disputes.

The House – Senate conference committee looking at this issue voted 4 to 2 to accept the compromise.

Windsor senator John Campbell said he was pleased with the new approach:

(Campbell) “I think what we have before us today though it is not as strong from a legal perspective as strict liability I believe it does provide that protection for farmers in the state of Vermont.”

(Kinzel) But Enosburg Rep. Avis Gervais opposed the plan because she’s concerned that many seed companies will stop selling their products in the state rather than risk being sued.

(Gervais) “I don’t believe that GE crops threaten anyone’s market share the practical consequence of this bill might well be that no farmer in Vermont could or would bear the risk of planting GE crops or plants plus being denied the benefits of future technology we would be ignoring science.”

(Kinzel) The compromise will now be voted on by the House and the Senate. If it passes the two chambers it will be sent to Governor Jim Douglas.
The governor says he doesn’t like the new bill because it’s too close to legislation adopted by the Senate last year and he isn’t sure that he’ll sign it.

(Douglas) “To impose a strict liability standard is unreasonable w don’t need to put that extra burden on our farmers look at what’s happening to the price of mil it’s declining we don’t need to put an extra responsibility on the farmers of our state.”

(Kinzel) The compromise plan is expected to come up for a vote in the next few days.

For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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