Fresh off of the tractor and into a gray suit, Sen. David Zuckerman visited Milton Middle School on Tuesday to discuss food and genetically modified organisms, awareness of which the farmer-senator championed into landmark legislation in 2014.
“I was out literally less than an hour ago on a cultivating tractor, and then I changed up for this fine event,” Zuckerman said to his audience of eighth-graders.
The students had just finished reading “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan and peppered the Democrat/Progressive lawmaker from Hinesburg with questions about GMOs.
First, Zuckerman laid out his background, both as a farmer and as a politician. Having served in both the House and the Senate for 18 years, and farming since 1999, Zuckerman gave a long talk on his stake in the GMO fight.
“One of the issues that I’ve spent a lot of time on is genetic engineering, both as a policy person but also as an organic farmer,” he said. “I don’t use any genetically engineered crops, partly because you’re required not to, to be certified organic, but also because I have some real concerns about what genetic engineering does for not just us as humans, but the planet as a whole.”
Though the Food and Drug Administration says GMOs are safe to eat, Vermont took the cautious approach in 2014, when Gov. Peter Shumlin signed the nation’s first law requiring labeling GMO foods.
GMOs were introduced in the 1990s, and in 2012, 88 percent of corn was genetically engineered, the FDA says.
Zuckerman, vice-chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee and the bill’s lead sponsor, supported GMO legislation because he questions how the foods will impact the world at large.
“If you start thinking outside of yourself,” Zuckerman said, “one of the things that we can actually start to think about is what’s happening to all of the land, and the water, and the soil and the microorganisms in the soil.”
Zuckerman also discussed his farming practices and the concept of community supported agriculture, or CSAs, where buyers pre-pay for a share of vegetables.
Zuckerman, who is seeking election as Vermont’s lieutenant governor, said he started farming and politics around the same time, when he volunteered for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign for congress.
Vermont’s GMO labeling law is set to become effective July 1.