Senate passes bill to label GMO seeds

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(Host) The Vermont Senate has taken a step toward making this the first state to require labels for genetically engineered seeds. The Senate gave preliminary approval to the labeling bill on Tuesday, which backers say will help educate the public about the new technology.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Genetic engineering is used to make crops resistant to herbicides, or to make them produce their own pesticides. The technology is controversial, because of fears that the gene-modified crops could contaminate other farms or spread in the environment.

The Senate bill requires labeling and registration of genetically modified seeds. Senator Matt Dunne (R-Windsor County) spoke in favor of the bill.

(Dunne) “This small piece of legislation is important and in fact I would say urgent. Specifically, to help quell the fears that are out there of the unknown with this technology. Technology which we have heard reports can drift from farm property to farm property. So I think this is a small step. It is a narrow step, it is not an intrusive step, but it is a step that will help us get more information on this emerging sector of agriculture.”

(Dillon) The registration requirement means the state will know how many genetically modified crops are grown in Vermont. The registration, however, will not identify individual farmers or specify where the crops are grown.

Senator Mark Shepard, (R-Bennington County) didn’t see the need for the bill:

(Shepard) “I don’t see a compelling case for this. Although that may come in the future, I don’t see that today.”

(Dillon) In the end, the Senate overwhelmingly supported the bill. Brian Tokar, a critic of genetic engineering, watched the vote in the Senate chamber. He says it’s a modest first step.

(Tokar) “The immediate concern is that farmers are being aggressively sold this technology without being told what it’s implications are. So if this bill passes, it would only allow GMO seeds to be sold in Vermont if they’re clearly labeled as such. It’s a first step toward giving farmers a chance to making informed decisions.”

(Dillon) The labeling bill comes up for final approval later this week. For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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