Farmers speak in favor of GE seed law

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(Host) A group of farmers came to the Statehouse on Wednesday to speak in favor of genetically engineered seeds. The farmers told lawmakers that the gene-altered crops save them money, and that liability legislation isn’t needed.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) The legislation addresses potential legal claims that could arise if genetically modified crops like corn or soybeans contaminate or cross-pollinate crops raised by organic farmers.

Currently, the contracts with seed manufacturers make the farmers responsible for damages if something goes wrong. The bill attempts to transfer that liability to the companies.

But Steve Kayhart, who farms with his family in Addison, wondered why the bill is needed.

(Kayhart) “I guess the biggest thing that I just keep going back to is that I don’t see the need for this bill. There’s a fear for myself and for my business for the manufacturers of these seeds to come back on myself. Because, if they do get dragged into court, I fully believe that they’d drag me in with them. And I have no desire to be there.”

(Dillon) The farmers told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the genetically modified crops save them money and allow them to use less herbicides or pesticides.

Kayhart and others also worried that Monsanto and other companies would simply pull out of the Vermont market if the bill passed.

(Kayhart) “Then who are you protecting? Are you protecting the 700 acres of organic corn that’s grown in Vermont or the 90-thousand acres of conventional corn and GM products that are grown in this state? You didn’t do me a whole lot of good there.”

(Dillon) But a Monsanto field representative told lawmakers that the company would not abandon Vermont if the bill passes.

Amy Shullenberger, policy director for the Rural Vermont Farm advocacy group, says the legislation is designed to protect all farmers, not just organic producers who fear they’d lose their certification if their crops are cross-pollinated.

(Shullenberger) “In fact, the reality is that consumer protection laws that currently exist may or may not protect the farmer. What the bill attempts to do is clarify what the state’s intention is around protecting the farmer and to make sure that our farmers are protected before the litigation occurs.”

(Dillon) Last year, Vermont became the first state to require labels on genetically modified seeds. If the GE liability bill becomes law, the state would be in the lead on this issue as well.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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