Private donations boost GMO legal defense kitty to $160,000

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MONTPELIER -- Vermont has raised more than $160,000 in private donations to help defend what would be the nation's first GMO labeling law.

While the majority of these private donations have come from individuals, national advocacy groups are also lending their support. And last week, two consumer advocacy groups filed a motion to intervene on behalf of Vermont to defend the law in court.

Vermont's law requires food manufacturers and retailers to label certain products containing genetically modified ingredients starting in 2016. The Grocery Manufacturers Association and other national trade groups are suing Vermont, claiming the law is unconstitutional.

State officials estimate spending as much as $8 million to defend the law. The state is accepting donations to a special fund at

The liberal advocacy group,, made the largest single donation of $52,000 earlier this month, nearly doubling the amount of money in the fund at the time. The group is lobbying other states to pass GMO labeling legislation.

Two Minnesota philanthropists added $50,000 on July 17. The trustees with the private foundation Ceres Trust, Kent Whealy and Judith Kern, have a history of pushing for GMO labeling policies in Hawaii and California.

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The foundation supports "organic research initiatives," including "programs to eliminate pesticide exposure and GMO contamination," according to its website. It describes genetic engineering as the "most difficult food safety, environmental and health challenges of the 21st century." The foundation says it supports the Center for Food Safety, a national consumer advocacy group seeking to help Vermont defend its law in court.

Among the state's other top donors are some that are represented by the trade groups suing the state.

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The New Hampshire organic dairy products manufacturer Stonyfield Farm donated $5,000, the state's third-largest donation. Stonyfield Farm is a member of the International Dairy Foods Association, which is among the trade groups suing the state over its labeling law.

Ben & Jerry's in June announced it would rename its fudge brownie flavor for the month of July and donate $1 for every scoop of "Food Fight Fudge Brownie" sold at its locations in Burlington and Waterbury into the fund.

The state has not received any money from the campaign as of Monday morning. Jay Curley, marketing manager at Ben & Jerry's, said the company is still tallying the revenue from the sales.

Unilever, the multinational food giant that owns Ben & Jerry's, is a member of the Grocers Manufacturing Association and the International Dairy Foods Association.

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Among the other top donors are the Vermont Community Foundation, which has donated $2,000, and Toronto's natural foods grocery co-op, the Big Carrot, which donated $1,000. Gov. Peter Shumlin also donated $100.

Vermont has hired a Washington, D.C., law firm to help defend the law. Russell, Englert, Orseck, Untereiner & Sauber was awarded a $1.465 million contract this month.

The private donations to date equal about 9 percent of that contract.

Sarah Clark, deputy commissioner of the Department of Finance and Management, said even with minimal marketing of the GMO fund, "we've really seen a significant increase in the last few weeks."

The state's response to the lawsuit is due Aug. 8.


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