• Vt. agriculture is on Legislature’s agenda
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     | December 09,2012
     

    Despite legal and economic challenges, from lawsuit threats to recovering from Tropical Storm Irene, advocates still hope to pursue legislation this session that expands agriculture.

    Leading that initiative could be a second attempt to pass a food product bill dealing with genetically modified organism, or GMO, labeling. The recent legislative attempt drew 112 testimonies but never came out of a judiciary committee due to time, agriculture committee members said.

    Rep. Carolyn Partridge, D-Windham, chairwoman of the House Agriculture Committee, said she’d be interested in co-sponsoring the legislation, which she said would hold up against a lawsuit. The biotechnology industry had threatened to sue if the Legislature passed the bill proposed last session, and the Shumlin administration had said the legal issues prevented their support.

    Shumlin himself had said federal courts struck down a 1996 Vermont law that required milk made using growth hormones to be labeled as such.

    “I really stand by the work we did, which is why I’m considering co-sponsoring essentially what we passed out of committee this coming year and just moving the whole thing along,” said Partridge, whose status as chairwoman as of earlier this week was still dependent on committee assignments from the speaker of the House.

    California residents voted on a proposition in November for similar labeling, and voters rejected the measure.

    Rep. John Bartholomew, D-Hartland, a member of the House Agriculture Committee, said the California vote makes passing Vermont legislation more difficult. He said Vermont could have partnered with California in defending lawsuits.

    Among other major agriculture issues this upcoming session, the House Agriculture Committee will try to secure more funding for an agriculture and lumber industry effort known as the Working Lands Enterprise Initiative.

    The state passed legislation for working lands initiatives earlier this year, but even that amount, around $1 million, only provided half of what was initially requested.

    Partridge said she’d like $3 million for the effort this upcoming year. She said the working lands funding could be included in Gov. Peter Shumlin’s proposed budget.

    The grants help with several forest product areas, ranging from enterprise to capital and infrastructure investments. Some grants provide up to $15,000 and others go up to $100,000. Deadlines are coming in January, but some only require letters of intent.

    Other priorities for the Agriculture Committee:

    Labor: Partridge said the committee may advocate for federal changes regarding H-2A visas for temporary workers. The federal programs are currently seasonal and don’t cover dairy farming, she said.

    Breeding: A study group has been evaluating statutes and town practices regarding pet-breeding regulations. A Senate bill that was reviewed by the House Agriculture Committee had apparent problems, according to committee members.

    Food: The Agriculture Committee could evaluate whether funding is sufficient for the state’s Farm-to-Plate initiative, which helps with economic and health goals. Partridge said the state had spent $1.265 million as of January and saw 497 jobs added during a two-year period.

    The initiative, passed in 2009, seeks to add 1,500 jobs over 10 years.

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