Constitutional Law

Food manufacturing associations challenge Vermont's GMO labeling law

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Four major manufacturing associations are seeking to invalidate Vermont’s law requiring manufacturers to disclose on labels when their products have genetically modified organisms.

The Burlington Free Press reported that the groups filed a lawsuit late Thursday in Vermont federal district court. The Grocery Manufacturers Association the Snack Food Association, the International Dairy Foods Association and the National Association of Manufacturers argued that the law, Act 120, was unconstitutional and requested an injunction preventing the state from enforcing it. According to Bloomberg, last month, Vermont became the first state to enact a law requiring disclosure of GMO ingredients.

“Vermont’s mandatory GMO labeling law—Act 120—is 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 consumers,” the Grocery Manufacturers Association said in a statement.

The food manufacturing associations, which are represented by Hogan Lovells and Gravel & Shea, centered their grievances against the law around the argument that GMO ingredients are not necessarily harmful. In their complaint (PDF), they claim that the proof of this is in the fact that the law excludes many types of foods such as milk, meat and restaurant food. As such, the manufacturers claim that Act 120 is arbitrary and violates their First, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights because it forces them to put information that they do not agree with on their labels without a sufficiently compelling governmental objective to justify it. They also claim the law violates the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution, arguing that only the federal government has the power to regulate labels.

In response, the Vermont Right to Know GMOs Coalition, which lobbied in favor of the law, argued that the law was about transparency and nothing else. “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, to the Burlington Free Press.

Meanwhile, the labeling requirements of Act 120 do not go into effect until July 1, 2016. According to the Burlington Free Press, Gov. Peter Shumlin and Attorney General William Sorrell had long expected the law to be challenged in court. Sorrell told the Free Press that he would put up a “heck of a fight” for the law and would zealously defend it.

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