• The right to know what’s in our food
    April 27,2014

    Like many Vermonters, I took advantage of the fantastic spring weather last weekend and started to prepare my garden for the season. I cleaned up the asparagus bed, moved my blueberry bushes to a more favorable location and found my rhubarb patch under the tangle of weeds that had slowly invaded before the onset of winter.

    For me, gardening is a form of meditation. I have time to think — or not think — when I am on my knees clearing away pernicious weeds from my food sources.

    I’ve been thinking about the deeper connection we have to our food when we grow it ourselves. Knowing what went into the ground to help grow that asparagus, we can appreciate the taste even more when those spears snap in our mouths, fresh out of the ground.

    We are fortunate to live where we can grow our own food, whether in our own backyards or in one of the many community gardens sprouting up around the state. We can also participate in a growing number of CSA shares with local farms or shop at farmers markets, thereby supporting those who make their living by growing the food we eat.

    In 2009, the Legislature directed the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund to create a 10-year strategic plan to strengthen the state’s food system. As a result, Vermont has developed one of the most comprehensive plans in the country and is paving the way for a regional plan with the other New England states.

    This work, which encourages sustainable agriculture and resilience to climate change, is being accomplished not only in our own backyards but statewide as well.

    The goal of the plan is to expand Vermont’s local food system — specifically, to double the amount of food we eat that is grown here in Vermont by the year 2020.

    Already the strategic plan has led to the creation of numerous farm-to-plate initiatives around the state. Schools, hospitals and other institutions have gotten involved. The farm-to-plate network has developed. The recently created Vermont Food System Atlas allows users to search for people and places in the state’s food system by keyword, food system category and location.

    This momentum has now led Vermont to demand that we have a right to know what goes into the food we don’t grow ourselves. Last week, the Senate voted 28-2 in favor of H.112, which requires mandatory labeling of foods made with genetically modified crops. This means that Vermont is on the way to becoming the first state to enact such legislation.

    The strong Senate vote comes after review by three committees, with much of the work focused on crafting a bill that would withstand an expected lawsuit from the biotechnology industry and setting up a special fund for the Vermont attorney general’s office.

    Monsanto has threatened a lawsuit, but other countries faced with that same threat have passed their own GMO-labeling laws.

    In contrast to bills passed last year in Maine and Connecticut that require other states to pass GMO-labeling laws before they can be enacted, Vermont’s law contains no such trigger clause. 

    We should all thank our legislators for their courage in helping us strengthen our connection to our food. Not only have they have helped pave the way for a food security plan — they have also set the standard for our right to know what others are putting in our food.

    Now, if they could help me remove this goutweed from my raspberries, I’d be delighted.

    Bill Laberge, a solar consultant who lives in Dorset, can be contacted at billlaberge@comcast.net.

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