Vermont Gov. James Douglas has vetoed a bill that would have made seed manufacturers liable for damages caused by genetically engineered seeds that drift into the fields of farms that do not want to use them.
Douglas said the measure was unnecessary and divisive and would have caused manufacturers to raise prices or restrict the seed sales in Vermont.
“It is with regret that I veto this bill,” Douglas said. “I greatly respect how passionate the arguments are around the issue of genetically engineered crops and the work of the Legislature in attempting a compromise. However, S.18 fails to find a middle ground between the competing interests, but instead dives into new legal territory that may only promote needless litigation that pits farmer against farmer and neighbor against neighbor.”
The applause from the crowd of largely conventional dairy farmers showed how passionate the debate had become. Some farmers and consumers are opposed to the use of seeds that can be scientifically altered to resist pests or disease. Others say the seeds are needed to control pests and keep food affordable.
“What irritated me the most was the organic and conventional farmer were split. We’d always gotten along before,” said Bernard Dubois who owns a 1,000-cow farm in Addison.
“With the obstacles that we face we certainly don’t need to have our feed taken away from us or sold to us at an elevated price,” said Bill Rowell, a dairy farmer in Sheldon.
Margaret Laggis, a lobbyist for the biotechnology industry, which opposed the bill, said her clients had not determined if they would change their seed sales if the bill had passed.
“All the companies were really looking at the issue of selling in that climate,” she said.
Douglas said the discussion about the use of genetically engineered seeds in Vermont would continue. He said he’d asked the agriculture secretary to bring together conventional and organic farmers to try to resolve the issues related to the seeds’ use.
“I look forward to working with the farming community in continuing this discussion,” he said.
Down the road following the veto, supporters of the bill gathered for their own press event and accused the administration of bowing to pressure from manufacturers.
“Gov. Douglas has chosen hypocrisy over democracy in siding with the chemical giants and not listening to the farmers,” said Rep. Dexter Randall, P-Troy, the primary sponsor of the bill and a dairy farmer.
“This is a huge insult for the farm community of Vermont, only widening the gap between conventional and organic farmers,” Randall said.
Advocates said they would continue to push for farmer protection from contamination from genetically engineered seeds.
“Go home and keep doing our work and keep talking about it and hopefully things are going to change,” Jack Lazor, of Butterworks Farm of Westfield, told fellow farmers.
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