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Breaking free from biotech in Vermont

(January 29, 2001 -- Cropchoice news) -- David Zuckerman wants to make Vermont a biotech-free zone. "I happen to think there's an incredible economic advantage for Vermont to go gmo-free," says Zuckerman, referring to genetically modified organisms. He represents Burlington in the Vermont legislature.

The dairy industry, which accounts for 85 percent of the state's agricultural output, illustrates how bucking the biotech trend could help Vermont farmers, he says. Those dairy cows eat lots of corn, and only five percent of the state's corn acreage is genetically modified. Dropping that figure to 0 wouldn't have to drastically affect production. Instead, farmers could expect to receive higher prices on their end product from a marketplace searching for non-genetically modified food.

Rep. Zuckerman, an organic farmer, first introduced biotech legislation two years ago. It called for studying the economic, health and environmental impacts of biotech in Vermont. Although his bill passed in the house of representatives, it failed in the senate.

Then, last year, new legislation came up in the senate. It placed liability on biotech companies, required that seed companies label transgenic varieties and called on growers of modified crops to notify their town clerk. The intent of the last point was that the public, including and especially growers who don't use biotechnology, would know the location of genetically modified crops. This bill passed the agriculture committee by a vote of 5 to 1, but failed by two votes in the finance committee.

This week Zuckerman will introduce legislation placing a two-year moratorium on genetically modified organisms. He says that this would afford time to thoroughly evaluate the economic, environmental and health impacts of genetic engineering.

Even though consumer -- and increasingly farmer -- rejection of genetic engineering is building, the biotech industry remains committed to pushing the technology.

"It's a huge politica battle to go gmo free," he says.

But it's a battle that anti-biotech forces have won, at least temporarily, in politically progressive Burlington.

Last year, by a vote of 13 to 1, the Burlington City Council passed a resolution that, among other items, called for a moratorium on genetically engineered foods until they are proven to be safe. The resolution also urged the inclusion of organic foods -- they're not allowed to be genetically modified -- as an option for public school students and for city departments during meetings and special events.