Vermont Leads the Way on GMO Labeling, Worker-Owned Cooperatives and Sustainable Population

Vermonters can take pride in several recent sustainability initiatives setting standards for the nation, including a new GMO labeling law, legislation to assist the startup of worker-owned cooperatives, and a groundbreaking report on achieving a sustainable population.

Peter Shumlin signs GMO labeling bill

Governor Peter Shumlin signs Vermont’s GMO labeling bill into law.

Photo by Angela Evancie/Vermont Public Radio

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Vermont may be one of the smallest states in the Union, but that hasn’t stopped it from tackling some of the biggest challenges facing our nation today. Here’s a highlight reel of some of the Green Mountain State’s forward-thinking initiatives.

Workers’ rights. Amidst a national trend of outsourcing and cutbacks, Vermont Sens. Bernie Sanders and Patrick Leahy have introduced two bills that would encourage the creation of worker-owned cooperatives nationwide. According to its sponsors, this business model would give employees control over wages and whether their jobs get outsourced, fostering economic equality and laying the groundwork for a strong middle class. Under one of the bills, the U.S. Department of Labor would help states fund centers for training and supporting worker-owners. The other would establish a U.S. Employee Ownership Bank to help workers purchase businesses through stock ownership plans or worker-owned co-ops. Learn more in In Sign of 'New Economy' Rising, Vermont Bill Champions Worker-Owned Co-ops.

Resource overconsumption. Since 2005, the nonprofit group Vermonters for a Sustainable Population (VSP) has been advocating for Vermont residents to live within the limits of the area’s resources. In a groundbreaking report released this year, VSP drew on expert analysis in areas ranging from biodiversity to economic stability to propose an optimal population for the state: 500,000. Getting there from the current population of 626,000 will take some careful planning. VSP’s suggestions include offering free contraception, limiting income-tax exemptions to two children, and factoring quality of life into measures of economic progress. See VSP's 2013 Optimum Sustainable Population Report for more.

Food rules. In the ongoing battle over the right to know what we’re eating, Vermont became the first state to pass a no-strings-attached GMO-labeling law earlier this year. Because neighboring states are likely to follow suit, the move could have a big influence on labeling nationwide. A group of corporations filed a lawsuit against Vermont in June, reports the Burlington Free Press, calling the law “a costly and misguided measure.” The group of plaintiffs, headed by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, also includes the Snack Food Association, the International Dairy Foods Association and the National Association of Manufacturers. Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell says he is ready to “zealously defend the law.”