• GMO label law runs out of time
    By DAVE GRAM
    THE Associated Press | May 04,2013
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    MONTPELIER ó With time ticking down in this yearís Vermont legislative session, itís becoming clear that lawmakers wonít pass a bill requiring labels on genetically modified food before wrapping up their work for 2013.

    The House Judiciary Committee isnít expected to finish its work on the measure and send it to the full House for debate until next week. Friday afternoon, committee members were digging into the legal weeds, examining opinions from the Hawaii attorney general, an industry group and legislative lawyers in Oregon on how well such a measure might hold up in court.

    With just a week or two left on the legislative calendar, supporters of the GMO labeling bill said their best hope was to get a positive vote in the House before adjournment and to ask the Senate to tackle the issue when lawmakers return for the second year of their biennium in January.

    Sen. David Zuckerman, of Burlington, vice chairman of his chamberís Agriculture Committee, said Friday that there was no chance his panel would be able to review the GMO labeling bill and bring it to the full Senate for debate before the end of the 2013 session.

    Lawmakers are tentatively scheduled to finish their work by next Friday. There was widespread speculation that the session may extend into the following week if negotiations over several open bills drag on.

    Andrea Stander, executive director of the farm advocacy group Rural Vermont, said that by January, ďthe landscape may have changed significantly,Ē with action on the issue in other states. Among those are Connecticut, where legislation is pending, and Washington state, which is set to vote on a referendum in November calling for labeling of food containing genetically modified components.

    The Vermont bill would do that for most foods but would exempt animal products, including meat and dairy products. Thatís despite the fact most Vermont dairy cows are fed corn from genetically modified seed, according to members of the House Agriculture Committee.

    Among the concerns throughout the process is the likelihood that a Vermont law on GMO labeling could draw a lawsuit from the biotech industry. At issue would be whether the compelled speech of required labeling would violate the First Amendment.

    Fears of a lawsuit are real for many lawmakers. Vermontís liberal Legislature in the past decade has passed progressive legislation on campaign finance reform, trying to close the stateís lone nuclear plant and restricting the collection by ďdata miningĒ companies of doctorsí habits in prescribing medications, only to see them struck down in federal courts, often at the cost to the state of millions of dollars.

    Michael OíGrady, an attorney with the General Assemblyís Legislative Council legal research staff, told lawmakers Friday that the GMO bill appeared to be defensible in court, but he described the range of legal opinions from Hawaii and Oregon as indicating there were no guarantees.
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