Tag Archives: federal law

State GMO label law effective July 1, tougher than U.S. plan

Vermonters reacted with mixed emotions to the prospects that a U.S. Senate compromise on labeling GMO foods could impact a state law due to take effect this week.

The law, effective July 1, would make Vermont the first state to require the majority of U.S. food products containing genetically engineered ingredients to bear labels that say “produced with genetic engineering.”

Industry groups have sued to block Vermont’s law, but have been unsuccessful so far. And some food companies have announced plans to begin shipping products with labels compliant with the law.

But in Congress, Kansas Republican Sen. Pat Roberts, who chairs the Agriculture Committee, and Michigan’s Sen. Debbie Stabenow, the panel’s top Democrat, announced a deal that would require similar labeling nationwide but allow food companies to use text, a symbol or an electronic label accessed by smartphone. No significant action is expected on the proposal before the Vermont law goes into effect.

In the state, residents had opposing reactions.

A bar code-style label not readable by the naked eye drew the ire of some.

At the Tulsi Tea Room, a vegetarian restaurant specializing in locally produced, organic food, manager Fiona Sullivan said needing a smartphone to read food labels “sounds very classist. You’d have to own a smartphone, for one thing, and you’d need to be educated to a certain degree.”

“It’s another example of big money blocking change that needs to take place,” she said.

But Brenda Steady, who stopped in at the Middle Road Market in Minton for a turkey grinder for lunch, said she was not worried about whether any of its ingredients was made with genetic engineering.

“I think it’s horrible,” Steady, a Democrat, said of the law passed by a Legislature and signed by a governor of her party in 2014. “It’s another way to micromanage small business. If people want to know what is in their products, they can go on Google and check them out.”

Meanwhile, Campbell’s Soup and General Mills announced months ago they would begin shipping products with labels compliant with Vermont’s law. Spokesmen for both companies said Friday they support the federal labeling proposal.

“We need consistency across the country. And without this national solution, we risked having a system of 50 different regulations impacting our packages,” General Mills’ Mike Siemienas said.

Tom Hushen of Campbell’s said the company has “already printed and shipped to comply with Vermont’s law”

“We will continue to comply with Vermont’s law until Congress and the president enact legislation that preempts and replaces it,” Hushen said. “With or without new federal legislation, the Vermont label will continue to appear on shelves across most of the country and well into the future.”

Lesbian parents: Pediatrician refused to treat infant daughter

Two Detroit-area women say they were humiliated when a pediatrician they selected to help care for their infant daughter declined to see the child because they are lesbians.

The Detroit Free Press reports Jami and Krista Contreras of Oak Park, Michigan, selected their daughter’s pediatrician before birth, but they learned the decision as they waited in October for the child’s first checkup. They say the doctor apologized in a handwritten letter.

Wayne State University Constitutional Law Professor Robert Sedler says there’s no Michigan or federal law prohibiting such a decision.

The doctor told the newspaper she couldn’t comment on the case, citing federal privacy law. She defended her commitment to pediatric medicine and helping children, saying her life is taking care of babies and she loves her patients and their families.

Congress to consider protections for farm animals in federal research

Federal lawmakers this week introduced a bill to require protections for farm animals used for agricultural research at federal facilities.

The bill follows a report in The New York Times that revealed animal cruelty at the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center, a federal livestock research facility in Nebraska.

The cows, sheep, pigs and other farm animals used in experiments at the facility currently are exempt from protections under federal law because of a loophole in the Animal Welfare Act. This loophole exempts farm animals “used or intended for use for improving animal nutrition, breeding, management, or production efficiency, or for improving the quality of food or fiber” from basic welfare standards.

The bill, with bipartisan support, would remove current exceptions that exclude animals used in agricultural experiments at federally-run facilities from certain protections under the Animal Welfare Act.

Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, and Matthew Bershadker, president and CEO of the ASPCA/American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, both announced support for the proposed Animal Welfare in Agricultural Research Endeavors Act. The short name is the AWARE Act.

The Meat Animal Research Center is part of the Agricultural Research Service, a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Since 2006, ARS has spent nearly $200 million on the center, according to a report prepared by the USDA for Congress as part of the budgeting process.

The New York Times exposed the center performing inhumane experiments on farm animals, including:

• Locking pigs in steam chambers until they died.

• Breeding calves born with “deformed vaginas” and tangled legs.

• Leaving lambs abandoned by their mothers in pastures to die of exposure or starvation.

The center also performed painful experimental surgeries and allowed at least 6,500 animals to starve to death.

Humane Society: Kohl’s ‘faux fur’ handbags trimmed with real rabbit fur

Independent laboratory testing recently confirmed that accessories sold on Kohls.com as “faux fur” were actually made with real rabbit fur, according to the Humane Society of the United States.

The nonprofit, on Dec. 2, issued a consumer warning about the products, which apparently were no longer available on the retailer’s website on Dec. 3.

Investigators with the Humane Society found that several styles of  Nicole Lee Fabiola brand handbags, which were advertised as having “faux-fur” trimming on Kohls.com in October and November, were trimmed with animal fur. Lab testing determined the fur to be from a rabbit.

HSUS says that selling animal fur as “faux fur” on a handbag is a violation of the Federal Trade Commission Act. That law prohibits “unfair or deceptive acts or practices” in commerce and carries a civil penalty of up to $16,000 per violation.

Pierre Grzybowski, of the Fur-Free Campaign of The HSUS, said in a statement to the press, “Consumers should be aware that animal fur is still being sold as ‘faux’ by major retailers — in this case Kohl’s. We’re calling on Kohl’s to adopt a fur-free policy and more robust quality control program, and urging consumers to learn how to tell animal fur from fake fur so they can shop with confidence.”

According to the HSUS, more than 75 million animals, including rabbits, raccoon dogs, mink, bobcats, foxes and even domestic dogs and cats, are killed annually to make unnecessary fur products. 

In August, the FTC issued took enforcement action against Neiman Marcus, Revolveclothing.com and Drjays.com in response to 2011 petition from the HSUS alleging the selling of animal fur as “faux.”

Also, in March, an investigation by the Humane Society found that the Century 21 store in New York was selling a Marc Jacobs jacket as having “faux fur” but it had raccoon dog fur.

The Truth in Fur Labeling Act, signed in 2010 by President Barack Obama, amended the Fur Products Labeling Act, closing a loophole that had allowed many fur-trimmed garments to go unlabeled if the value of the animal fur material was $150 or less.

Majority backing on employment non-discrimination bill from GOP voters

About 56 percent of Republican voters support the proposed U.S. Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would ban discrimination in the workplace based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

The polling found that overall 68 percent of voters support ENDA, which has passed a Senate committee and could be voted upon this fall.

The poll was conducted by TargetPoint Consulting’s Alex Lundry, who, according to the Human Rights Campaign, is “one of the country’s leading experts on voter analytics who has worked for several Republican presidential candidates and Fortune 10 companies.”

Lundry, in a news release, said, “ENDA is common-sense legislation that rings true with the overwhelming majority of voters, including Republicans. The American people believe in the values of hard work and the Golden Rule – these are the reasons why support for ENDA is off the charts.”

Lundry found majority support in each state for a federal law.

The poll also found eight in 10 Americans believe it’s already illegal to discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

“The idea that employers would judge their employees on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity instead of performance and hard work is so offensive to the basic sensibilities of Americans that an overwhelming majority already think it is illegal,” said Jeff Cook-McCormac, an advisor to the American Unity Fund. “Voters strongly feel that merit matters most and they are shocked to learn that discrimination is still legal and that is why we see broad bipartisan support to pass ENDA this year.”

Citizens are expected to lobby for ENDA’s passage on Capitol Hill on Oct. 3.

California cities can ban pot dispensaries

The California Supreme Court ruled earlier this week that cities and counties can ban medical marijuana dispensaries, a decision likely to further diminish the network of storefront pot shops and fuel efforts to have the state regulate the industry.

In a unanimous opinion, the court held that California’s medical marijuana laws – the nation’s first and most liberal – neither prevent local governments from using their land-use powers to zone dispensaries out of existence nor grant authorized users convenient access to the drug.

“While some counties and cities might consider themselves well-suited to accommodating medical marijuana dispensaries, conditions in other communities might lead to the reasonable decision that such facilities within their borders, even if carefully sited, well managed, and closely monitored, would present unacceptable local risks and burdens,” Justice Marvin Baxter wrote for the seven-member court.

The ruling came in a legal challenge to a ban enacted by the city of Riverside in 2010, but another 200 jurisdictions have similar prohibitions on retail pot sales, the advocacy group Americans for Safe Access estimates. Many were enacted in the past five years as the number of dispensaries swelled and amid concerns that the drug had become too easy to get.

A number of counties and cities were awaiting the Supreme Court ruling before moving forward with bans of their own.

Of the 18 states that allow the medical use of marijuana, California is the only one where residents can obtain a doctor’s recommendation to consume it for any ailment the physician sees fit, as opposed to only for conditions such as AIDS and glaucoma. The state also is alone in not having a system for regulating growers and sellers.

“The irony in California is that we regulate everything that consumers purchase and consume, and somehow this has been allowed to be a complete free-for-all,” said Jeffrey Dunn, the lawyer who represented Riverside in the successful defense of its ban. “Cities and counties looked at this and said, `Wait a minute. We can’t expose the public to these kind of risks,’ and the court recognized that when it comes to public safety, we have independent authority.”

Marijuana advocates had argued that allowing local governments to bar dispensaries thwarts the intent of the medical marijuana law that voter’s passed nearly 17 years ago. On Monday, they blamed the absence of state oversight and the failure of local authorities to adopt operating guidelines that fall short of banning dispensaries for the court’s decision.

“Today’s decision allowing localities to ban will likely lead to reduced patient access in California unless the state finally steps up to provide regulatory oversight and guidance,” said Tamar Todd, senior staff attorney for the Drug Policy Alliance. “Localities will stop enacting bans once the state has stepped up and assumed its responsibility to regulate.”

Two bills are pending in the California Legislature that seek to establish a new statewide system for regulating and licensing the medical marijuana industry, and to clarify the role of dispensaries in it. Advocates hope to see language that would make it harder for local governments to outlaw dispensaries by requiring voter approval for any bans, Drug Policy Alliance Policy Manager Amanda Reiman said.

Activists also are in the early stages of planning a ballot initiative that would legalize the recreational use of marijuana and regulate it like alcohol, as voters in Washington and Colorado did last year.

Although California is believed by advocates and law enforcement agencies to have had thousands of dispensaries a few years ago, the number has dropped significantly as communities and federal authorities have cracked down. However, counting with any precision is impossible because record-keeping varies from community to community, many dispensaries do not advertise, and no overall state total is kept.

Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, and the U.S. attorneys have threatened to seize the property of landlords who lease space to the shops. Hundreds of dispensary operators have since been evicted or closed voluntarily.

Riverside city lawmakers used their zoning authority to declare storefront pot shops as public nuisances and ban the operations in 2010. The Inland Empire Patient’s Health and Wellness Center, part of the explosion of retail medical marijuana outlets, sued to stop the city from shutting it down.

Larry Swerdlow, a nurse who co-founded the Inland Empire center and a neighboring clinic where people can obtain recommendations to use marijuana, said Monday that banning dispensaries would force residents to get the drug on the street. He also pledged to keep fighting.

“I kind of look at the gay community. I mean, they had lost all these elections on gay marriage, 40 states and this kind of stuff, but they didn’t give up,” Swerdlow said as medical marijuana activists gathered at the state Capitol to lobby lawmakers on the two proposed bills. “We’re not going to give up either.”

Medical marijuana supporters in several cities, including San Diego, San Jose and Los Angeles, have stopped officials from either outlawing or limiting pot shops by threatening to overturn them with voter referendums.

Religious exemption in ENDA raises concerns

LGBT civil rights advocates cheered the reintroduction of the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act on April 25, but there also was criticism for the religious exemption in the bill.

ENDA, which has been introduced multiple times in Congress since 1994, would ban workplace bias based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Some states protect LGBT workers and job applicants, but 29 states do not ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and 34 states do not have protections for transgender people.

“It is shameful and embarrassing that past Congresses have failed to pass federal employment protections for LGBT Americans even though fair-minded leaders have advocated for its passage for years,” Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin stated on April 25, after ENDA was reintroduced in the House and Senate. “As we experience the bipartisan sea change on LGBT equality, we call on Congress to seize this historic opportunity and ensure that workers are not unfairly treated based on who they are or who they love.”

Lead sponsors are:

• U.S. Sens. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., along with Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis.,, Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Tom Harkin, D-Iowa.

• U.S. Reps. Jared Polis, D-Colo., and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla.

In a 2011 poll, more than 70 percent of U.S. adults supported passage of ENDA.

Another poll has found that many Americans incorrectly believe that employment discrimination against LGBT people already is against federal law.

“There is no room for discrimination – for any reason – in our laws, in our schools, and certainly not in our places of work,” said openly gay U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., who praised the reintroduction of the bill. “Non-discrimination policies based on sexual orientation and gender identity are already in effect at a majority of our nation’s largest companies, and the time has come to ensure they are also passed into law. ENDA represents bipartisan, commonsense policy that guarantees all of our workers, no matter who they are or who they love, have the opportunity to thrive and succeed in the workforce.”

Civil rights groups also issued statements praising the reintroduction of ENDA, but also expressing concern for the religious exemption.

The American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal,
 National Center for Lesbian Rights and
Transgender Law Center issued a joint statement saying in some ways ENDA was improved.

However, the statement said, “We stand united in expressing very grave concerns with the religious exemption in ENDA. It could provide religiously affiliated organizations – far beyond houses of worship – with a blank check to engage in employment discrimination against LGBT people. Some courts have said that even hospitals and universities may be able to claim the exemption; thus, it is possible that a religiously affiliated hospital could fire a transgender doctor or a religiously affiliated university could terminate a gay groundskeeper. It gives a stamp of legitimacy to LGBT discrimination that our civil rights laws have never given to discrimination based on an individual’s race, sex, national origin, age or disability. This sweeping, unprecedented exemption undermines the core goal of ENDA by leaving too many jobs, and LGBT workers, outside the scope of its protections.”

The statement continued, “We are fully committed to continuing to work for the passage of ENDA and an appropriate exemption for religious organizations. We remain hopeful that our allies in Congress will agree that singling out LGBT people alone for this kind of unequal and unfair exemption to otherwise applicable non-discrimination laws has no place in this historic legislation.”

A review from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, written by transgender civil rights project director Lisa Mottet, said, “Right now, the religious exemption is broader than the one in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans discrimination based on sex, race, national origin and religion. The Task Force supports updating ENDA’s religious exemption to more closely follow the language of Title VII, so that LGBT workers at hospitals that are religiously-affiliated would have the same protections as other people at those places.”

Any action on ENDA is likely to come first in the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions.