GMO opponents plan march on the Statehouse

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(Host) Activists opposed to genetically modified crops want Vermont to become the first state to impose a moratorium on their use. Supporters of the moratorium plan to march on the Statehouse on Thursday.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) The bills on gene-altered seeds take aim at an increasingly common component of farm technology. Some varieties of corn and soybeans contain genes spliced from other organisms. The changes are designed to make the crops more resistant to insects or herbicides.

But organic farmers worry that pollen from these crops could drift and contaminate their own fields. Twenty percent of Vermont farmland is in organic production. And there’s growing concern that organic farmers could lose their organic certification – and their markets – if their crops are contaminated. Amy Shollenberger of the Rural Vermont advocacy group says the pollen drift is impossible to prevent.

(Shollenberger) “The technology cannot be controlled by farmers. So even farmers with the best interests, cannot work with his neighbors to make sure his contamination doesn’t happen. So even the corporations say contamination will happen. There’s no way to control it.”

(Dillon) Laboratory tests released this week by the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington show that GE crops have caused widespread contamination of conventional crops. The study concludes that it soon may be impossible to guarantee that the U.S. food supply is free of gene-altered elements.

Ed Miller, a lobbyist for Monsanto, says the technology is safe. He says that opponents who plan to march on the Statehouse are simply misinformed.

(Miller) “My concern that some of the people that are coming really don’t understand the fundamentals of what we’re talking about here, which is that at the end of the day, the seeds aren’t different. And that not a single person in Vermont or anywhere else has been harmed by the fact that they’ve eaten a GMO seed.”

(Dillon) But Senator Dick Sears, the Bennington County Democrat who chairs the Judiciary Committee, says other products that were supposedly safe turned out to be dangerous.

(Sears) “I think we’re always concerned. Even though the manufacturer says the product is safe and even though our Food and Drug Administration says it’s safe, the long term effects we never know. And I was referring to asbestos, because that was a product we thought was safe about 40 years ago, and now we know the truth about asbestos and the damage it can do to people.”

(Dillon) Seventy towns have passed resolutions calling on the state to regulate GE foods. The issue may come before voters at 10 more town meetings next Tuesday.

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

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