Kerr supports stronger rules for Vermont product labels

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(Host) Vermont’s agriculture secretary says he would like to see some changes in proposed rules on how Vermont’s name is used in product labeling. Steve Kerr says he wants to make sure labeling requirements are broad enough to protect Vermont farms now and in the future.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) The attorney general has proposed tightening the state’s labeling rules to clarify how the name “Vermont” can be used in a company or product name. The most complex area of the proposal has to do with so-called “unqualified representations.”

Take products with names like Vermont Cheddar Cheese, Vermont Maple Syrup, Vermont Wool Sweaters or Vermont Blueberry Jam. Under the proposal, only the cheese and maple syrup would have to come from Vermont cows and Vermont trees. The sweaters and blueberry jam could be made from wool or blueberries that come from anywhere.

The difference, according to the Attorney General is consumer expectation. Buyers expect Vermont labeled diary and maple products to be made from Vermont ingredients.

Not so with wool and blueberries. But Secretary of Agriculture Steve Kerr thinks that if the ingredients of any Vermont labeled product can be grown or produced in state, then those ingredients should be Vermont made unless it’s made clear on the label that they’re not.

Kerr says the list of items that must include Vermont ingredients should be larger. He says that would encourage new product lines of Vermont goods in future years.

(Kerr) “If we give away the Vermont blueberry jam by saying, Yeah, we’re not a big blueberry state today – we may never be a big blueberry state.”

(Zind) Kerr says Vermont farming is diversifying, and it’s important that any product labeling rules made today anticipate the future.

(Kerr) “We today are a dairy state. We may not always be a dairy state. Aand since the only thing that we have that is truly unique as farmers is Vermont origin, if we give that away or if we don’t understand the ramifications of a decision we make in 2004, it will have an impact in 2024.”

(Zind) The attorney general’s office says it is giving serious consideration to revisions of the proposed rule. It’s accepting written comments through Tuesday.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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