Saturday February 2, 2013

My life,
my decision Editor of the Reformer:

Finally, the Vermont Legislature has once again begun the debate on the Death with Dignity Bill. We will hear opinions for and against it, and I hope and believe it will inspire healthy, civil debate and discussion, similar to the debates about abortion in the 70s or gay marriage during the last decade.

Many opponents feel that it is morally wrong to pass this legislation. They trot out the "slippery slope" argument. They will state that the disabled, elderly and mentally ill will be taken advantage of by this law. A similar law was passed in Oregon in 1994 and the slippery slope issue has not come to fruition. Oregon’s experience with this law has proved that the checks and balances in the law work. This has also been true in Washington, which passed their bill in 2008.

This should not be a religious issue. I am sure many people who believe in God or a spiritual being, feel that it is wrong to prolong an individual’s suffering when it could be alleviated.

This is an issue of choice ... my choice ... if I am terminally ill, if I am determined to be mentally sound with less than six months to live, then I would have the right to end my suffering. That’s all. I am not asking you to do it for me, I am not saying you have to do it for yourself. All I am asking is that I be allowed the opportunity to make my final days or weeks a little more comfortable, a little less painful and dreadful for me, my family and friends. Today, if I was in this situation, I’d be able to starve myself to death ... but is that humane? Do I want to suffer through that and have my family and friends watch me suffer through that? Death is inevitable for us all, but for me, why can’t it be on my terms?

I know many people, friends included will disagree with me about this, and that’s good, that’s their right. But this should be my right, my choice. If this law is passed, when my time comes, I don’t know if I would take advantage of it. But I do know that I will appreciate the peace of mind I’ll have knowing that it is an option. Time and time again Vermont has proven itself to be an enlightened state. I hope they continue to show their thoughtfulness and leadership and pass this bill.

For more information visit www.patientchoices.org.

Ben Underhill,

Brattleboro, Jan. 30

Vt. could lead in GMO labeling

Editor of the Reformer:

Mr. Stevenson’s column in the Jan. 28 issue, concerned with individual efforts that GMO-conscious consumers can make in the GMO-labeling movement, is a well written and helpful guide to consumer-activists on this important issue. He includes efforts to induce co-ops to undertake labeling on their own, as well as an appeal to education and smart consumption. These are worthwhile steps, and useful, but to create change on a larger scale it will take more than the efforts of dialed-in citizens.

Without mandated GMO labeling, we’re asking consumers and marketplaces to undertake GMO identification efforts on their own. This puts the burden on the wrong shoulders. When an estimated 70 to 80 percent of the processed food sold in U.S. stores is produced with genetic engineering, it is unfair to ask the average consumer to take the time to call food manufacturers just to ascertain the origins of their ingredients.

When buying the food we feed our families, including kids’ cereals and baby food, we as consumers have the right to know the origins of those ingredients, particularly if they may be harmful toxins. Our laws require labels that detail fat content, allergen information, and caloric values. Hence, we choose our ingredients without having to do independent research, an effort that most of us do not have time for.

Of course, we should all do what we can on an individual level, and I agree that this is a good start. However, with the mounting evidence of the potential dangers and environmental problems of GE foods and a broad base of popular support (90 percent of those polled), it is increasingly important that we ask our legislators to take the lead on mandatory labeling of GMOs here in Vermont. Our small state has the opportunity to be a leader once again for this increasingly important issue of transparency in our nation’s food system.

Josh Bernbaum,

Brattleboro, Jan. 30

Less meat,
more veggies

Editor of the Reformer:

It was thought-provoking to learn that a "state task force with representatives from the meat processing industry is looking for ways to expand capacity for meat processing in Vermont" ("After artisanal cheese, Vermont explores charcuterie," Jan. 30). As more and more evidence confirms the environmental effects of meat production as well as the health effects of meat consumption, it seems that Vermont -- which seeks to lead the nation by improving public health and by being proactive on climate change -- has an opportunity to consider how its future agricultural innovations will align with those goals.

An article in American Agriculturist in November 2012 summarizes a new report put out by the United Nations Environment Programme: "The correlation between increasing meat production and rising greenhouse gas emissions is strong, estimating that animal agriculture’s share of total global GHG emissions could be as much as 25 percent." And the Environmental Working Group, a non-profit, non-partisan organization whose mission is to "use the power of public information to protect public health and the environment" states in a new report that "on the health front, the scientific evidence is increasingly clear that eating too much of these greenhouse gas-intensive meats ... increases the risk of a wide variety of serious health problems, including heart disease, certain cancers, obesity and, in some studies, diabetes."

Several publications that analyze food trends have predicted that in 2013 consumers will be altering their protein choices away from meat-based proteins and toward plant-based proteins, including beans, nut butters, and legumes. Supermarket News foresees a "major shift" in this direction, and topping its list of "2013 Restaurant Food trends," Restaurant magazine forecasts, "Vegetables take their star turn." Interestingly, The Obvious Corporation, an incubator founded by Twitter co-founders Biz Stone and Evan Williams is backing a company called Beyond Meat that makes plant-based meat substitutes. An article in Fast Company quotes its founder: "There’s a misallocation of focus. People haven’t focused on this area. So many greenhouse gas emissions are because of livestock."

Clearly, animal agriculture is an institution in the state of Vermont. However, if scientific data has any influence on both consumer choice and citizen behavior, wouldn’t it be worthwhile for agriculturalists to also keep plant-based business ideas in mind? The Union of Concerned Scientists thinks so. They see economic opportunity in the following discrepancy: although the U.S. Department of Agriculture now recommends in their new dietary guideline (called "My Plate") that fruit and vegetables should make up 50 percent of our daily intake, these foods are currently grown on only 2 percent of U.S. farm acres. They suggest that "increasing fruit and vegetable production could bring important benefits to local economies."

Climate change and public health are issues that will increasingly drive public policy, business practice, and personal choice. And they should. How seriously we factor them into our plans for the future will determine the legacy of our leadership.

Meredith Anton,

Dover, Jan. 30