Monsanto Set to Sue Vermont for Requiring GMO Labeling

OccupyReno MediaCommittee/Flickr Creative CommonsA Monsanto protest in Reno, Nevada
OccupyReno MediaCommittee/Flickr Creative Commons
A Monsanto protest in Reno, Nevada


Indian Country Today


On May 8, Vermont set history by becoming the first state in the country to require genetically modified (GMO) food to be labeled.

When Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) signed the bill into law, he released the statement: “We believe we have a right to know what’s in the food we buy.”

But one hurdle still stands in the state’s way: a likely lawsuit from Monsanto, the world’s largest GMO producer.

According to a recent report on labeling requirements from the nonprofit Council for Agricultural Science and Technology, at least 25 states are considering similar legislation, but with trigger clauses like Connecticut and Maine that require multiple other states to pass GMO labeling laws before theirs take effect.

“If Vermont wins, it might not be long until the entire country mandates GMO labeling, giving consumers the information to make their own choices,” states a petition by the SumOfUs community ( that urges people to sign to protest Monsanto suing Vermont for its decision to label GMO foods.

Attorney General Bill Sorrell told Vermont Public Radio in May that he would be “very surprised” if Monsanto doesn’t sue the state, reported the Washington Post. State officials  have even guarded against a lawsuit with a copy.5 million legal defense fund, which would be paid for with settlements won by the state.

Among Monsanto’s outlandish claims is that a labeling requirement would be a violation of the company’s freedom of speech. In recent years, Monsanto has even gone as far as to partner with DuPont and Kraft Foods to grossly outspend and defeat supporters of similar laws in California and Washington, explains

Sign the SumOfUs petition here.



GMO labeling debate shifts to Olympia


Credit: AFP/Getty Images
Credit: AFP/Getty Images

by Associated Press

January 17, 2014

SEATTLE — Months after Washington voters narrowly rejected an initiative requiring labeling of genetically modified foods, lawmakers are reviving the GMO debate in Olympia.

One bill would require labeling genetically engineered salmon for sale, even though federal regulators have not yet approved any genetically modified animals for food. Another bill requires many foods containing GMOs to carry a label.

The debate comes as the U.S. Department of Agriculture is considering approval of an apple engineered not to brown. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is also weighing an application for a genetically modified salmon that grows twice as fast as normal.

In Olympia, a public hearing is scheduled Friday in the House Committee on Agriculture & Natural Resources on the bill. That measure also would prohibit genetically engineered finfish from being produced in state waters

Washington’s GMO labeling flop, two weeks later: What it means

By , Grist

Ever since Washington state voters rejected a measure to label genetically engineered food earlier this month, I’ve been trying to understand what the vote meant.

On election night, I stressed the importance of advertising, but people on Twitter and in comments have questioned that emphasis. Political advertising rarely changes opinions; it generally sets people more deeply in their convictions. So perhaps what the Washington vote shows us is that fewer people care about GM food than it seems.

Why the measure lost is also related to the question of who voted. In the end, only 45 percent of registered voters cast their ballots — the lowest turnout in a decade. What does that mean? And what’s the significance of the fact that the race tightened up as officials counted ballots: The measure was losing by 10 percentage points in early tallies, but that margin eventually narrowed to 2 percentage points, with 49 percent voting for, and 51 against.

The answers to these questions have interesting implications for future labeling campaigns. The Washington vote seems to be telling us that concern about GM food is broad and shallow. That is, lots of people are vaguely worried about transgenics, but it’s not a core issue that drives majorities to the polls.


“This was a solution looking for a problem,” said Stuart Elway, president of the Seattle-based polling company Elway Research. “People were not highly agitated about GMO labeling.”

Let’s dig into the evidence that this vote gives us to suggest that conclusion:


With nearly all the votes counted, I stand by my initial impression that money made all the difference in this vote. I did, however, get the precise amounts wrong: I wrote that opponents spent more than $30 per “No” vote, but more ballots came in than I’d estimated. In fact, they spent just under $25 per vote (that’s $22 million over approximately 890,000 votes). Still, that $22 million is a lot of money — more than has ever been spent before in either opposing or promoting a ballot measure in the history of the state [PDF].

And as soon as the money began to flow, Elway saw a shift in his polling numbers: The measure had a huge 45 percent lead in September. Then the ads began to run, and that lead dropped to 4 percent in October.

“There was a 41 point swing in six weeks, which is unprecedented,” he said. “I’ve been tracking politics in this state for 30 years and I’ve never seen such a big swing in such a short amount of time.”

Among the people who had seen the ads, the measure was losing.

“When we asked them why they were voting no, people were reciting the talking points from the ads back to us,” Elway said.

It’s clear that, in this case, advertising swayed public opinion. But at the same time economists have established that it’s hard to change opinion with political spending. So what gives? Well, there’s an exception to the rule. While it’s nearly impossible for advertising to shift core values — like getting a lifelong Democrat to vote Republican or vice versa — it is possible for advertising to change the mind of someone who hasn’t fully committed. When people haven’t encountered the arguments on each side, those arguments tend to work.

One poll found that 93 percent of Americans favor labeling GM food. But half of the people questioned in that poll weren’t aware that GMOs were already widespread in processed foods — in other words, they were concerned, but brand new to the debate. In previous Washington polls Elway conducted on food safety, GMOs had come in sixth out of six potential problems with the food supply. So, while it’s clear that there’s widespread anxiety about GMOs, it doesn’t seem to be deep-seated.

Voter turnout

The low voter turnout is especially remarkable since Washington sends a vote-by-mail ballot to every voter. From one perspective, this means that 55 percent of voters cared so little about GMOs that they ended up throwing out their ballots. Just 22 percent of all registered voters in the state sent in a ballot voting yes on the measure.

But look at it another way: If all the voters in King County, where the measure passed, had turned out, the initiative would probably have passed.

“Low turnout votes do tend to be more conservative,” said David Ammons, communications director for the Washington Secretary of State’s office. And Democrats had shown they were more likely than Republicans to favor the initiative.

In Elway’s October poll, the measure was trailing among people who had voted in all of the last four elections, but it was winning among those who voted less than half the time. All this suggests that a higher voter turnout could have led to the initiative’s passage. Perhaps if more people were motivated to vote by a concurrent presidential election, for instance, they would have checked “Yes” on this initiative a little farther down the ballot.

Perhaps. Or maybe those non-voters would be swayed by the same ads. When California voted on a similar initiative in 2012, during a presidential election, 72 percent [PDF] of registered voters showed up, but the initiative still failed by an infinitesimally wider margin than in Washington.

Either way, it turned out that Washington’s labeling initiative relied on infrequent voters — they favored the proposition 49 to 37 percent, according to Elway — and they couldn’t be bothered to vote this time. GMOs aren’t driving people to the polls. Once again, concern about GM food looks shallow.


Lots of votes came in late. “We did see a general trend toward people keeping their ballots longer,” Ammons said. “I think a lot of people were still studying the GMO issue. There was a lot of media on this, a lot of explanatory journalism. I think there were a lot of people seriously trying to understand if this was the right answer, weighing it, and holding onto their ballots up until Election Day.”

The later voters were more likely to favor the initiative, but Ammons said, “We don’t have a good working hypothesis on that yet.”

He pointed out that later Seattle-area ballots elected a socialist councilmember while also voting down a minimum wage hike. It’s hard to tell what, if anything, can be learned from the timing of the votes.

What’s the lesson here?

Advocates in Oregon are already preparing a similar initiative for the 2014 election in that state. If the pattern holds, we’ll see widespread support early on (they’ll have no trouble getting the signatures necessary to put it on the ballot). Then the food industry will wade in and begin buying up advertising slots, and sentiment will shift. In the end, the proposition will lose by a couple of points.

Of course, that pattern could break. Businesses could decide they don’t want to be forking over cash every year to defeat propositions. The seed-company Syngenta, for instance, stayed out of the Washington contest after contributing in California.

But if that pattern holds, I have some advice for labeling advocates: It’s not enough to raise the specter of danger. You’ve already got the populist base, so simple, broadly appealing arguments won’t be sufficient. You’ll need more sophisticated arguments that stand up to scrutiny — the kind of arguments that convince newspaper editorial boards (they almost all advised voting no in Washington) and scientific organizations, rather than alienating them.

Panic-free GMOS: See the full story list

Four epic green ballot battles to watch today

By John Upton, Grist

It’s an off-year election so there are no congressional races today, but some state and local battles are of immense interest to environmentalists. Here’s a quick rundown of the key green fights to keep an eye on:

Virginia governor’s race

In the gubernatorial election in Virginia, the leading candidates are virtual caricatures of their political parties when it comes to climate change. The Democrat, Terry McAuliffe, is concerned about global warming and supports renewable energy. He also used to run a (now quite troubled) greentech company. The Republican, Ken Cuccinelli, is a climate skeptic who’s been trying to score political points by whining about the Democrats’ “war on coal.” Cuccinelli previously led a witch hunt of a prominent climate scientist, Michael Mann, trying, unsuccessfully, to force the University of Virginia to turn over emails and other records related to Mann’s time at the school. (You’ll never guess who Mann has been supporting in the governor’s race.)

President Obama called out Cuccinelli’s climate illiteracy while stumping on Monday for the Democrat. “It doesn’t create jobs when you go after scientists, and you try to offer your own alternative theories of how things work and engage in litigation around stuff that isn’t political,” Obama said. “It has to do with what’s true. It has to do with facts. You don’t argue with facts.”

Virginia, a coal-producing state, used to be solidly red, but in recent years it’s turned purple. The state’s voters went for Obama in 2008 and 2012, and they look very likely to lean blue in this race. McAuliffe is firmly up in the polls.

Read more about the race here and here.

Anti-fracking ballot measures in Colorado

The Colorado Oil and Gas Association has poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into advertisements trying to convince residents of four Colorado cities to vote against ballot measures that would ban or suspend fracking.

Gov. John Hickenlooper, the pro-fracking Democrat who once drank fracking fluid in an attempt to demonstrate its harmlessness, claims the proposed measures in Boulder, Broomfield, Fort Collins, and Lafayette would be illegal. His administration is already suing one city, Longmont, for having the audacity to tell frackers to stay the hell away from their community.

“If you ban fracking you are essentially banning exploration and extraction of hydrocarbons,” Hickenlooper told Bloomberg during an interview about the ballot mesures. “Our state constitution guarantees people who own the mineral rights that there can be extraction from the surface to get those minerals.”

Washington GMO-labeling ballot measure

If Washington voters approve ballot initiative 522 [PDF], the state would mandate the labeling of foods containing genetically modified ingredients starting in 2015. The Washington Post reports that opponents have “raised at least $22 million, with large out-of-state food companies and agribusinesses like Monsanto, Dupont Pioneer, Coca-Cola, and Kellogg donating heavily.” Supporters have raised $8.4 million, mostly in small donations.

This is the first big state election battle over GMO labeling since Californians rejected a similar ballot measure one year ago. That election also saw tens of millions of dollars spent by large food corporations who want to keep their GMO ingredients a secret from their customers.

Read more about the initiative here.

Whatcom County council elections

Whatcom County in Washington state, a rural area in the northwestern corner of the country, has the power to determine whether a proposed $600 million coal terminal gets built. The Gateway Pacific Terminal would load coal mined in Wyoming and Montana onto ships bound for Asia. The county council will approve or reject key permits needed to construct the terminal. That’s why more than $1 million has flowed into four county council races from energy companies and environmentalists nationwide.

Read more about the race here and here.