Just before the close of the 2015 session, both chambers of the legislature voted overwhelmingly to pass H.35 – a bill aimed at improving water quality in Lake Champlain and other Vermont waterways. After much debate among legislators and stakeholders, especially over funding, the bill provides around $7.5 million toward implementation and enforcement of new water quality regulations. Some primary funding sources include a surcharge on the state’s property transfer tax, fees on medium and large farm registrations, and fees on the sale of non-agricultural fertilizer and pesticides. In part, these funds will be used to pay for enhanced education, outreach, enforcement, and inspections by creating 8 new positions at the Agency of Agriculture and 13 at the Department of Environmental Conservation.
While passage of H.35 set the stage for changes to Vermont’s agricultural and stormwater management practices, many details of the clean-up initiative will be fleshed out through a rulemaking process over the coming year. For example, one key provision of the bill calls for the State to develop new regulations for reducing pollution from farms, changing accepted agricultural practices (AAPs) to “required agricultural practices” (RAPs) since they will be mandatory under the new legislation. What exactly those practices will include has yet to be determined. As the State works toward implementation of the law, NOFA will be working to ensure that organic farmers are aware of any new requirements they may face, while also working with State partners to ensure that implementation is as practical and effective as possible.
GMO Labeling Update: David vs. Goliath? Let’s Hope So
The legal battle to uphold Vermont’s GMO labeling law has often been described as a classic David and Goliath-style battle, wherein our small but mighty state is pitted against the gargantuan likes of the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA). As the legal challenge brought by the GMA and others begins to move through the courts, members of the VT Right to Know GMOs coalition are working to ensure that our battle ends with the same happy result as that famed parable.
On April 27th of this year, the first significant blow was dealt to the GMO giants in the form of a ruling by the U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont. In the ruling, Judge Christina Reiss soundly rejected plaintiffs’ attempt to halt implementation of Vermont’s GMO labeling law (Act 120), dismissing claims that the law is unconstitutional and preempted by federal law. On May 6th, plaintiffs appealed the District Court’s decision, though a schedule for the next steps has not been set as of this writing.
In the meantime, Act 120 is set to go into effect on July 1st of 2016, giving food producers, distributors, and retailers just over a year to prepare to put GMO labeling into action in the Green Mountain State. For more information and ongoing updates on the GMO show-down, you can visit the website of the VT Right to Know coalition or Attorney General Bill Sorrell.
NOFA-VT in DC: National Organic Coalition (NOC) Annual Meeting June 16-18
From June 16th to 18th of this year, the National Organic Coalition (NOC) will be holding its annual meeting and hill visits in Washington, D.C. NOC, of which NOFA-VT is an active member, is an alliance of organizations working to provide a united voice in Washington for the organic community and to maintain the integrity of organic food and farming nationally. This year, NOC’s annual fly-in will bring national stakeholders together to strategize on key issues like advancing organic integrity, growing domestic organic supply, and preventing genetic contamination on farms. While in DC, I will be meeting with USDA officials and Vermont’s Congressional delegates to discuss current issues that impact Vermont’s organic farmers and eaters. I look forward to thanking our federal representatives for the difficult work they do and will be asking them to continue to stand up for policies that work for Vermont’s organic food and farming community.