G.M.O. Labeling Law Challenged

By Isabelle Dietz

Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin is facing a serious ramification for a GMO labeling bill he recently passed, in the form of a major lawsuit. The bill on genetically modified food products (GMOs), approved this past spring, will require GMOs sold in Vermont to be labeled by July 1, 2016. Vermont will be the first state to implement GMO labeling. Four national organizations filed a lawsuit on June 12th over this GMO labeling law (also known as Act 120), because they claim that GMOs do not need to be declared to consumers, as they do not affect customer safety or health.
“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 about the lawsuit.

Governor Shumlin signed Act 120 into law in May, after the Vermont House approved it by a margin of 114-30 in April. The bill specifies that any product “partially produced with genetic engineering,” that “may be produced with genetic engineering” or is “produced with genetic engineering,” will be considered a GMO, and encompasses all food products in Vermont. Sixty countries currently require GMOs to be labeled.
“I am proud of Vermont for being the first state in the nation to ensure that Vermonters will know what is in their food,” Shumlin said in a statement at the time.

Roughly 60 to 70 percent of processed foods in the United States contain genetically modified materials. Yet, only half of citizens understood that GMOs are sold in grocery stores, and under a quarter believed they had ever eaten GMOs.

The World Health Organization (WHO) states that GMOs should be assessed on a “case by case basis,” because “it is not possible to make general statements on the safety of all GMO foods.”

Act 120 was passed with the hope of making food information more transparent to customers. However, many argue that such transparency is unnecessary when GMOs have not been definitely proved as harmful.

“Act 120 imposes burdensome new speech requirements — and restrictions — that will affect, by Vermont’s count, eight out of every ten foods at the grocery store,” the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) said in a statement. “Vermont has effectively conceded this law has no basis in health, safety or science. That is why a number of product categories, including milk, meat, restaurant items and alcohol, are exempt from the law. This means that many foods containing GMO ingredients will not actually disclose that fact.”

The four plaintiff organizations that are arguing that the new law is unconstitutional are the GMA, the Snack Food Association, the International Dairy Foods Association and the National Association of Manufacturers.

Their lawsuit argues that the 2016 deadline for Act 120 is a difficult one for the plaintiffs to meet, and one that might require them to revise labels for every single product – even those not sold in Vermont. In addition, the lawsuit points out that since 1994 the FDA has confirmed the safety of more than 100 genetically engineered crops for human consumption.

The plaintiffs are also arguing that GMO regulation resides within the domain of federal, not state, laws.

“The Act exceeds Vermont’s authority under the United States Constitution. The Act should be invalidated and enjoined in its entirety,” the lawsuit argues.

Even last spring when the GMO bill was passed, lawmakers were aware that it would probably be contested in court. Attorney General William Sorrel said last Thursday that he had told lawmakers that the lawsuit would be “a heck of a fight, but we would zealously defend the law.”