Introduced by Senator White of Windham County
Subject: Agriculture; genetic engineering; agricultural inputs; seeds; liability
Statement of purpose: This bill proposes to hold persons liable who omit material information regarding the genetic characteristics of products that contain genetically-engineered seed or plant parts; to allow farmers that sustain damages from genetically-engineered seed or plants to sue genetically‑engineered seed producers for damages; and to create an advisory committee on genetic engineering.
AN ACT RELATING TO LIABILITY FOR GENETIC ENGINEERING
It is hereby enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Vermont:
Sec. 1. 6 V.S.A. § 641 is amended to read:
§ 641. DEFINITIONS
As used in this chapter:
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(9) “Genetically-engineered seed” or “GE seed” means an agricultural, flower, or vegetable whole seed, or its living progeny, that has been altered at the nucleic acid level, using the techniques collectively referred to as recombinant DNA technology. Such techniques involve the transfer of genes, regulatory sequences, or nucleic acid between hosts by the use of vectors or laboratory manipulations, and include, but are not limited to, the insertion, excision, duplication, inactivation, or relocation of specific genes, regulatory sequences, or sections of nucleic acid. The term “genetically-engineered” does not apply to material or an organism developed exclusively through traditional methods of breeding, hybridization, or nondirected mutagenesis.
(10) “Genetically-engineered plant part” or “GE plant part” means a whole plant or plant part, including scions intended for planting, which contains material derived from a GE seed.
(11) “End user” means any person who plants or sows GE seeds or GE plant parts.
Sec. 2. 6 V.S.A. chapter 35, subchapter 3 is added to read:
Subchapter 3. Genetically-Engineered Seeds and Plant Parts
§ 652. LIABILITY
(a) Misrepresenting, or omitting material information regarding, the genetic characteristics, the safety, the adverse effects, or directions for use of seed or plant parts in the label or accompanying documents is an unfair or deceptive act or practice in commerce in violation of section 2453 of Title 9. Any farmer, defined for the purposes of this section as a person engaged in the business of farming as defined in 26 C.F.R. § 1.1175-3, who sustains damage or injury resulting from any person’s use of seed or plant parts in reliance upon such a misrepresentation or omission may sue any person responsible for the misrepresentation or omission and recover the amount of his or her damages, including, but not limited to, consequential damages for economic injury and punitive damages, and reasonable attorney’s fees. Any language, written or oral, used by a seller or solicitor, which attempts to exclude or modify recovery under this section shall be unenforceable.
(b) For the purposes of this section, “plant parts” means a whole plant or plant part, including scions intended for planting.
§ 653. ADVISORY COMMITTEE ON GENETIC ENGINEERING
(a) Committee created.
(1) A committee to advise the commissioner on genetic engineering (GE) is created, consisting of 17 members as provided by subsection (d) of this section.
(2) The commissioner shall chair the committee and select a vice chair from its membership. The committee shall meet at the call of the chair, and be staffed by the department. Legislative members of the committee shall be compensated only for travel expenses in attending committee meetings at the rate provided by section 406 of Title 2.
(b) Duties. The committee shall study the consequences from, and possible regulation of, use in Vermont of GE seeds and plant parts for agricultural and any other purpose, including:
(1) The understanding of scientists and other knowledgeable persons of the economic, environmental, and public health benefits and risks associated with GE applications to the domesticated and natural physical environment and to human food production.
(2) Federal and state legal doctrines which determine the ability of a state government to regulate GE applications within its borders.
(3) Consequences on the entire Vermont economy as a whole of use of GE applications by the Vermont agricultural sector. Consideration shall be given to the health and vitality of many Vermont businesses not directly involved in agriculture or food production, but which nonetheless depend substantially on the high reputation of Vermont farmers for producing food that is safe and of the best quality when measured by conventional standards. Consideration shall be given to the success of Vermont entrepreneurs, achieved after a long period of effort and at considerable expense, in marketing all kinds of Vermont goods and services at premium prices as a result of being identified with the high reputation of Vermont agriculture. The committee shall study whether the use of GE applications by Vermont farmers would undermine the marketing achievement of the larger Vermont economy.
(4) The design of a state policy on GE applications, which shall include:
(A) An analysis of the labeling of raw and processed food for human consumption sold in this state as to whether GE has been employed in the production of such food.
(B) A feasibility and cost-benefit analysis of a Vermont agricultural sector, in whole or in part, free of the use of GE, plus a possible plan of public and private actions that could accomplish such an objective, including changes in product marketing, industry infrastructure, and sources of financing.
(c) Report. The committee shall annually report to the legislature on or before January 15 on its findings and recommendations arising from its study and considerations.
(d) Membership. The committee shall consist of:
(1) The commissioner of agriculture, food and markets.
(2) One member of the house and one member of the senate, appointed respectively by the speaker of the house and the senate committee on committees from the membership of the respective committee on agriculture.
(3) The dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences of the University of Vermont.
(4) One representative each of the University of Vermont Center for Sustainable Agriculture and the department of community development and applied economics, appointed by the respective administrative head of each entity.
(5) One representative of Vermont food consumer cooperatives appointed by the commissioner of agriculture, food and markets.
(6) One representative of each of the following entities, appointed by the respective executive body or head of each:
(A) Dairylea Cooperative;
(B) National Farmers Organization;
(C) Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont;
(D) Rural Vermont;
(E) Green Mountain Dairy Farmers Cooperative Federation;
(F) Vermont Family Farms;
(G) Vermont Farm Bureau;
(H) Vermont Feed Dealers Association;
(I) Vermont Safe Seed Initiative; and
(J) Vermont Small Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association.
Sec. 3. EFFECTIVE DATE
This act shall take effect on passage.
The Vermont General Assembly
115 State Street