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Advocates Concerned About GMO Labeling Hearing

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Vermont Right to Know Coalition

The Vermont Attorney General’s office announced that the only public hearing on the state’s proposed genetically modified food labeling rules would be held Tuesday evening. But advocates are upset that it was poorly publicized and few, if any, people knew about the meeting.

Attorney General William Sorrell’s office issued a release on January 14th stating that the only public hearing on the draft regulations to govern the labeling of foods produced with genetic engineering would be held January 20th at 5 p.m. at the Statehouse.  “We were literally across the hall from Room 11 where the hearing was supposedly held. It was 5 o’clock or so and I saw no evidence that there was any number of people there.”

Andrea Stander, the Executive Director of Rural Vermont, has worked with the attorney general’s office during the rulemaking process. She is upset that few Vermonters knew about the hearing.   “I did not go into Room 11 so I have no idea who was there. But given the circumstances it’s hard to believe, since not only did the grassroots organizations who were fundamental to getting this law passed we did not know that this was happening. Legislators didn’t know that it was happening. The media here didn’t know that it was happening. I mean they very well may have held the public hearing. I’m just not sure there was  anybody there.”

Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont Policy Advisor Mattie Monty says Tuesday night was a missed opportunity for Vermonters.   “I have a feeling if many of the key stakeholders and advocates weren’t informed that a lot of the public wasn’t either.  We really want to make sure that the public is involved in this process going forward as much as they can be because,  as anyone I think in the Statehouse will tell you, the public is really the reason that this bill got passed. I think they have a right to have their voices heard throughout the  rulemaking  process.”

Vermonters have until January 28th to submit written comments on the proposed rule.

Many of the GMO advocates have been working with the attorney general’s office as the rules have been drafted and are generally pleased with the plan.  Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility Public Policy Manager Dan Barlow did not know about the public hearing. He says the draft rules address a number of issues.  “Vermont passed the law just last spring and it’ll take effect next year. Working on the law in the Statehouse was kind-of the sexy part of this and now the state’s getting down to the hard part of how you actually put together rules to implement that law. So these rules cover everything from the definition of genetically modified ingredients to where businesses would put their label on their package if they do so. So it’s pretty extensive and pretty important to the implementation  of this law.”

Vermont Public Interest Research Group Consumer Protection Advocate Falko Schilling was also unaware that a public hearing had been scheduled and has not yet submitted formal comments on the draft plan.   “As a whole we think they’ve done a very good job. The thing that’s most important is giving people clear guidance on how they can comply and what the expectations will be. So I think they’ve done a very good job at flushing out some of the things that were tasked to them by the Legislature in terms of making sure that people know what’s going to be expected of them and can comply with the law when the labels hit  the shelves on July 1st, 2016.”

Rural Vermont’s Andrea Stander, meanwhile, is attempting to contact the Attorney General’s office to schedule a new public hearing.   “I have left a message with the assistant attorney general there asking why this occurred this way. We will certainly be asking for either another public hearing or at least an extension of the public comment period. We barely have enough time to get the word out to people that they have until the 28th, next week,  for people to get public comments in.”

The Assistant Attorney General in charge of the GMO labeling rules was unavailable for comment. His executive assistant said the hearing did occur but she did not have details on the meeting.

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