Vermont’s landmark GMO-labelling law target of lawsuit by food trade groups

AFP Photo / Robyn Beck

AFP Photo / Robyn Beck

A group of four national trade organizations sued the state of Vermont over its new law requiring labels on foods with genetically modified ingredients, scheduled to go into effect in July 2016. They claim the requirement is unconstitutional.

Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), the Snack Food
Association (SFA), International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA)
and the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) say that food
made with genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, are safe and
do not need to be specially labeled. The Vermont legislature
passed the bill in April, and Gov. Peter Shumlin (D-Vt.) signed it
into law
at the beginning of May.

“I am proud of Vermont for being the first state in the
nation to ensure that Vermonters will know what is in their food.
The Legislature has spoken loud and clear through its passage of
this bill,”
he said in a statement after the bill passed.

Legislators knew that major food companies like Monsanto Co. and
DuPont Co – the leading producers of GMO crops – were likely to
challenge the law in courts. Attorney General William Sorrell
said he advised lawmakers while they deliberated the bill that it
would invite a lawsuit from affected companies, “and it would
be a heck of a fight, but we would zealously defend the
he noted Thursday, according to the
Burlington Free Press

To defend the legislation, Vermont allocated a $1.5 million legal
defense fund in the measure, to be paid for with settlements won
by the state. However, even this amount might not be enough to
cover the state’s legal bills.

The trade groups involved in the lawsuit called the labeling
requirement “a costly and misguided measure that will set the
nation on a path toward a 50-state patchwork of GMO labeling
policies that do nothing to advance the health and safety of
GMA said in a statement.

“With zero justification in health, safety or science, the
State of Vermont has imposed a burdensome mandate on
manufacturers that unconstitutionally compels speech and
interferes with interstate commerce,”
NAM wrote in its

The US Food and Drug Administration ruled in 1994 that food from
genetically modified plants is not materially different from
other food. But critics of GMO foods consider them
environmentally suspect and a possible health threat. Labeling
supporters say the law gives consumers more information about
their food than they had previously.

“The people of Vermont have said loud and clear they have a
right to know what is in their food,”
said Falko Schilling,
consumer protection advocate with the Vermont Public Interest
Research Group, according to the Free Press. “Putting labels
on is a reasonable and prudent thing so people can decide for

BIO, a trade group that includes the major GMO-producing
companies, told Reuters that mandatory labeling laws would raise
costs $400 a year for the average household. The plaintiffs went
into detail about where those costs would come from, as well as
how the law affects interstate commerce.

“They must revise hundreds of thousands of product packages,
from the small to the super-sized,”
the lawsuit said.
“Then, they must establish Vermont-only distribution channels
to ensure that the speech Vermont is forcing them to say, or not
say, is conveyed in that state.”

The Green Mountain State’s law does not apply to meat, eggs or
dairy from animals who were fed genetically modified grains,
according to Organic Authority. Restaurants are also exempt. In
the court filing, the plaintiffs say that the law’s exemptions
create big gaps in information, the Free Press reported.

The trade groups also took on the state’s legal defense funding
in the complaint, which requires private dollars be used before
the state’s $1.5 million. “The state’s unwillingness to use
its own funds to administer and defend Act 120 is express
confirmation that Vermont does not have a ‘state’ interest in the
survival of the law,”
the lawsuit reads.

But the attorney general disputes that interpretation, as did the

“We have been gearing up,” Sorrell told the Free Press
over the phone on Thursday.

“Now, as we expected all along, that fight will head to the
Shumlin said to the Associated Press.

Vermont was the first state in the country to pass a
“trigger-clause free” GMO-labeling law, while Maine and
Connecticut both passed legislation that include triggers. In the
case of the Nutmeg
, four additional states, one of which must border
Connecticut, must pass labeling laws as well before its law goes
into effect.

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