The Vermont attorney general filed a request with the U.S. District Court Friday asking that it dismiss a lawsuit filed by the Grocery Manufacturers Association and other industry groups challenging the state’s new GMO labeling law.
Vermont Act 120 requires the labeling of food made with genetically modified organisms. In his court filing, Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell said the state’s labeling law withstands the five challenges to its constitutionality made by the plaintiffs.
The state says the law is appropriate under the First Amendment and serves legitimate state interests. The state asserts that the plaintiffs cannot prove that the law is too vague, nor does it violate the federal Commerce Clause since the plaintiffs have not proven it has caused a significant burden on interstate commerce. The state’s motion for dismissal also says the GMO labeling law is not preempted by other statutes and is part of a state’s regulatory power.
Assistant Attorney General Megan Shafritz explains that based on what is alleged in the complaint and evidence put before the Legislature when the law was passed, they are offering strong arguments for dismissal. “We have great confidence in those legal arguments. Each one is sort-of it’s own separate body of law and it’s going to require the court to do some good analysis in each of these legal areas. But we feel very confident in the brief that we’ve filed and that the court, after hearing from the other side, and perhaps hearing arguments from the parties, will see that our arguments are correct.”
A partnership between Rural Vermont, NOFA Vermont, VPIRG, and Cedar Circle Farm called the Vermont Right to Know GMO Coalition worked to get the bill passed. Rural Vermont Executive Director Andrea Stander says it’s excellent that the attorney general has rebutted the lawsuit in every way. “It reflects everything that we’ve been saying all along about this law, which is that it passes all the legal tests. So I’m glad to see it and I hope the judge dismisses it. I think we demonstrated in the three legislative sessions that we worked to pass this law that there is an overwhelming number of Vermonters who feel very strongly that knowing whether or not the food they’re buying has been genetically engineered is an important piece of information to them. It’s at least as important as all of the other things that are already provided for on food labels.”
The Vermont Public Interest Research Group has filed documents with the court seeking to become an intervenor in the case. Consumer Protection Advocate Falko Schilling discounts plaintiffs’ claims that GMO foods are substantially similar to or the same as other foods. “One of the things you can look to is the fact that they’re patented because they are different. They act differently than other foods in nature such as the fact that you can put large amounts of herbicides on them. Where other plants would die, these plants can resist that. They’re unique and they’re something that needs to be tested and need to be adequately regulated.”
The federal lawsuit filed in June describes Vermont’s labeling law as "a misguided measure that will set the nation on a path toward a 50-state patchwork of GMO labeling policies."
While the Vermont Retail and Grocers’ Association is not a party in the lawsuit, President Jim Harrison has similar concerns about the state’s new law. “Until the courts intervene we have a responsibility to work with the attorney general’s office to figure out what the rules, how the rules should be written in a way that makes the law work. Our druthers would have been to have a national, federal uniform labeling law. It gets very complicated when you go state-to-state and have different types of labeling laws. It gets very expensive to do that. But having said that, the Legislature passed it. We have a responsibility to work with the attorney general’s office to help them develop rules that actually work when it’s implemented in two years.”
The plaintiffs have 30 days to respond to the state’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit. The state will then have an opportunity to reply before the court makes a decision.