House approves key agriculture legislation

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(Host) The Vermont House gave preliminary approval to key farm legislation on Wednesday. The bills deal with genetically engineered seeds, the right to farm law, and regulations protecting streams and lakes from farm runoff.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) One of the bills combines changes to Vermont’s right to farm law and rules governing large farms.

The right to farm statute ran into trouble last fall when the Vermont Supreme Court ruled the law did not protect the owners of an Orwell orchard from a suit filed by their neighbors. The House voted to expand the law to make sure it covers a broader range of farms, and allows for farms to change their operations as long as they don’t endanger public safety or health.

The large farm legislation is being amended to conform to federal regulations governing farm runoff. For the first time, the regulations will cover medium-sized farms in addition to large farms. Under the proposed rules, farmers will have to get permits to make sure they’re handling waste properly. Some lawmakers were concerned that the permit process might give people who oppose a farming operation a chance to shut it down. Ultimately the bill passed on a unanimous voice vote.

A bill on genetically altered seeds also won preliminary approval by a wide margin. The bill requires the labeling and reporting of GE seeds sold in Vermont. The legislation received support from those for and against the use of GE seeds. Royalton Democrat Rosemary McClaughlin worried that the technology could hurt Vermont farmers.

(McLaughlin) “In my district we have a vibrant local economy. A big part of this local economy is organic vegetable farms and organic dairy farms. Their products are sold in our local market and their products are served at my table. This bill is very important to the organic growers in Royalton and Tunbridge and very important to the local economy in Royalton and Tunbridge and it is very important to me.”

(Zind) Republican Ruth Towne of Berlin also supported the labeling bill. Towne said GE seeds are a new and useful tool for Vermont farmers. She compared the technology to the introduction of artificial breeding years ago,

(Towne) “I think that agriculture, more than any other industry, is dependent on research and technology. And I hope that whoever is here in 15 or 20 years will view genetically engineered seeds the same way they view artificial breeding and the other technologies that we’ve had.”

(Zind) Opponents of GE seeds say they would like to see a moratorium on their sale. They’re also supporting a Senate bill that makes manufacturers liable for any damage caused by genetically engineered seeds.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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