Vermont Attorney General Asks Court To Throw Out Industry Lawsuit Against State’s GMO Labeling Law

Nov 18, 2014

Credit Vermont Right to Know Coalition

The Vermont attorney general has asked the U.S. District Court to uphold the state’s newly enacted law that requires the labeling of genetically modified foods.

In the court filing submitted last Friday, the State of Vermont asks a federal judge to dismiss a food industry lawsuit that seeks to block Vermont's new GMO labeling law from taking effect. It also opposes a motion for a preliminary injunction to block the law from going into effect.

The plaintiffs, a number of trade associations, filed a lawsuit over the summer, challenging the constitutionality of Act 120, Vermont’s GMO labeling law. In August the Vermont AG’s office moved to dismiss the suit, arguing that it was constitutionally sound and the challengers had not stated a claim.  In response the plaintiffs moved for a preliminary injunction to prevent the law from taking effect while it was being challenged. The Friday filing is the state’s response to that.

Assistant Attorney General Megan Shafritz says they are also asking the court to dismiss the case. “We had an opportunity to reinforce our arguments that Vermont’s law would withstand the challenge and that plaintiffs cannot succeed on the claims that they have brought,”

The Grocery Manufacturers Association, National Association of Manufacturers and other groups are suing to overturn the law. Grocery Manufacturers Association spokesman Brian Kennedy emailed a statement to WAMC stating: “Act 120 imposes burdensome new speech requirements – and restrictions – that will affect, by Vermont’s count, eight out of every 10 foods at the grocery store.” He also writes it places undue burdens on the food industry. “Act 120 is a costly and misguided measure takes us one step closer to a confusing 50-state patchwork of state labeling laws that will provide consumers with incomplete and inaccurate information, only serving to misinform and mislead them......This maze of multiple and varied regulations.....would cripple interstate commerce throughout the food supply and distribution chain and ultimately increase grocery prices....”

The Vermont attorney general’s latest filing includes signed statements and amicus briefs from a number of supporters, including economists, business representatives and scholars. The Vermont Law School’s Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic filed a brief on behalf of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group and the Center for Food Safety. VPIRG Consumer Protection Advocate Falco Schilling says the legislature vetted the law thoroughly.   “People are wary of genetically engineered foods for a number of reasons. One for the environmental impacts that these foods are having. Two for the possible health concerns and three because of the lack of  general regulations around these foods. It’s taking over more and more of our food system and people want to have the ability to decide whether or not they want to purchase and eat those foods.”

Massachusetts-based Free Speech for People filed an amicus brief supporting Vermont’s law. Legal Director Ron Fein says the national organization filed the brief in support of Vermont because it wanted to bring to light important First Amendment principles.  “We’re not taking a position on the wisdom of eating or not eating genetically engineered foods.  But the First Amendment to the Constitution was not designed to protect food corporations that want to avoid product labels. And this is actually part of a national pattern that we’ve seen of corporations claiming constitutional rights in efforts to overturn state and local and federal laws around the country.”

Fein says Vermont did not ban GMO’s, and consumers can decide whether to purchase the products. He objects to major food manufacturers using constitutionality as a trump card.  “The Constitution is the ultimate trump card and it should be when peoples’ rights are at stake. But not when we’re talking about a food labeling law.”

Oral arguments are not expected to be scheduled by the court until at least mid-December.