Carolyn Partridge
Carolyn Partridge

BRATTLEBORO -- Vermont doesn't yet have a GMO-labeling law.

But state Rep. Carolyn Partridge, D-Windham, has worked hard to make that happen and has been lauded for her role in getting a bill that requires labeling of genetically modified food through the state House earlier this year.

That work has earned Partridge the "legislator of the year award" from Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility. The veteran legislator will receive the award at the organization's Nov. 20 conference at Mount Snow.

"I'm very honored. I think Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility is a fantastic organization," Partridge said.

"It was a total surprise," she added. "I know that they've been very active in the local-foods movement. For that, I'm very appreciative."

The battle over GMO labeling is happening state-by-state. But there is not a state that currently mandates such notices, and labeling advocates have measured progress in fits and starts:

-- Last week, voters in Washington state rejected a GMO-labeling referendum. California voters did the same last year.

-- Also last week, a New Hampshire House committee recommended that the state's full House of Representatives kill a bill requiring GMO labeling.

-- Legislatures in Maine and Connecticut have passed labeling laws, but those measures will not go into effect until other states do the same.


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In Vermont, the state House in May approved a bill mandating GMO labeling by July 1, 2015 or 18 months after "two other states enact legislation with requirements substantially comparable to the requirements of this act."

The matter will go to the Vermont Senate when the next legislative session convenes in January.

There will be no shortage of lobbying for and against the bill. Vermont Public Interest Research Group this past summer mounted a door-to-door push advocating for Senate approval of a labeling law, collecting 30,000 postcards to send to lawmakers.

Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility also is taking an active role.

"We think that consumers have a right to know what's in their food. We need more transparency," said Dan Barlow, the organization's public policy manager.

Barlow added that "Vermont has put in considerable time and effort to build up the Vermont brand," and genetically modified foods are a "threat" to that brand.

Opponents of current GMO-labeling initiatives, including food-industry giant Monsanto, say there is no scientific proof that genetic modification leads to unsafe products.

Others advocate for a federal GMO law rather than a patchwork of state regulations. Also, there are concerns that any state approving GMO labeling could face expensive litigation from the likes of Monsanto.

That doesn't worry Partridge.

"There was a question as to whether there would be a suit by biotechs or some other industry. I'm not particularly concerned about that," she said. "I'm elected to represent my constituents, and my constituents have told me in no uncertain terms that they want labeling."

As chairwoman of the House Committee on Agriculture and Forest Products, Partridge played a key role in shaping the current Vermont GMO bill.

Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility took note of that.

"Carolyn was a tireless advocate for labeling at the Statehouse, and her leadership has placed the state among the front-runners of the movement," said Mark Curran, a VBSR board member and co-owner of Black River Produce in North Springfield.

Partridge said many others deserve credit for moving the bill this far.

"I will accept this on behalf of my entire committee," she said. "I know that nothing gets done in that building by oneself."

She also is optimistic that the bill will become law soon.

"I think most people understand that it's not just public curiosity," Partridge said. "There are concerns about health issues and environmental issues. I think people want to be able to make a choice."

Partridge, who also is a member of Windham School Board, serves the Windham 3 House district along with Rep. Matt Trieber, D-Rockingham. The district includes Athens, Brookline, Grafton, Rockingham, Windham and part of Westminster.

Partridge is serving her eighth two-year term in the House and said she expects to pursue re-election next year.

"I still really enjoy it. I plan to run again," Partridge said. "As long as it's rewarding in terms of what I can do for my constituents and for the state of Vermont, I will continue to run."

More information about VBSR's 21st annual fall conference at the Grand Summit Hotel in West Dover is available at www.vbsr.org.

The gathering will include a panel discussion on the pending shutdown of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Plant as well as a keynote presentation titled "Social Entrepreneurship and the Next Generation" by Jeffrey Hollender, co-founder and former chief executive officer of Seventh Generation, and his daughter, Meika Hollender.

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.