Vermont Senate votes to hold biotech firms liable

MONTPELIER, Vermont, March 12, 2004 (ENS): Vermont Senators voted 28-0 Wednesday to support the Farmer Protection Act (S.164), a bill to hold biotech corporations liable for unintended contamination of conventional or organic crops by genetically engineered plant materials.

The debate revolved around patent laws that allow biotech corporations like Monsanto to sue farmers for patent infringement whose fields are contaminated with genetically modified pollen or plant materials.

Senator Vincent Illuzzi, a Republican representing Essex-Orleans, illustrated cross-pollination of corn varieties with multi-colored ears of Vermont corn.

The vote comes after 79 Vermont towns have passed Town Meeting measures calling on lawmakers in Montpelier and Washington enact a moratorium on genetically modified organisms and 10 percent of Vermont's conventional dairy farmers have pledged not to plant the crops.

"The Farmer Protection Act is a pre-emptive strike to stop predatory lawsuits against Vermont's family farmers by biotech companies like Monsanto," said Ben Davis with the Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG). "Today the Vermont Senate took the first step to defend family farmers from these kinds of intimidation suits and the hazards of genetically engineered crops."

VPIRG is among a coalition of groups including Rural Vermont, Institute for Social Ecology, and Vermont Genetic Engineering Action Network who are spearheading the grassroots campaign for the first state in the union that is free of transgenic crops.

"Big biotech corporations are writing the rules in their own interests at the national and international level, and using their patented GMOs as a tool to contaminate and control farmers," said Doyle Canning, a campaigner with the GE Free VT campaign. "Vermont is showing that a little state can make a big statement against corporate greed and work towards a Time Out on this technology.

"We are working in concert with the folks in Hawaii, Mendocino County, and in the 30 nations around the world where GMO crops are stringently regulated, to put farmers first," said Canning.

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