WASHINGTON — The Grocery Manufacturers Association on June 12 filed a complaint in federal district court in Vermont to overturn the state’s law requiring the labeling of food produced with bioengineered ingredients.
Under the Vermont law to take effect on July 1, 2016, if food for humans is offered for sale at retail in the state and is produced entirely or partially with genetic engineering, the food must be labeled to indicate that fact. Violators would face penalties and further action by the state’s Attorney General’s Office. Vermont’s governor, Peter Shumlin, signed bill H.B. 112 into law on May 8.
“Vermont’s mandatory G.M.O. labeling law, Act 120, is a costly and misguided measure that will set the nation on a path toward a 50-state patchwork of G.M.O. labeling policies that do nothing to advance the health and safety of consumers,” the G.M.A. said. “Act 120 exceeds the state’s authority under the United States Constitution and in light of this, G.M.A. has filed a complaint in federal district court in Vermont seeking to enjoin this senseless mandate.”
Joining Washington-based G.M.A. in its efforts to challenge the law are the Snack Food Association, the International Dairy Foods Association and the National Association of Manufacturers.
The G.M.A. said the law would create “burdensome” new speech requirements and restrictions for 8 of every 10 food products at the grocery store.
“Yet Vermont has effectively conceded this law has no basis in health, safety, or science,” the group noted. “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 G.M.O. ingredients will not actually disclose that fact.”
The G.M.A. also countered that the United States Constitution prohibits Vermont from regulating nationwide distribution and labeling practices that facilitate interstate commerce.
“That is the sole province of the federal government,” the group said. “The U.S. Food & Drug Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency have both the mandate and expertise to incorporate the views of all the stakeholders at each link in the chain from farm to fork.
“G.M.A. looks forward to presenting its legal arguments to the court.”
But the Vermont law is not without its supporters. The Organic Consumers Association, a grassroots organization based in Finland, Minn., called the G.M.A.’s complaint “a desperate attempt to protect corporate shareholder profits at the expense of consumers’ rights and health.”
More than 60 countries ban the use of bioengineered ingredients or require G.M.O. labeling, and U.S. consumers should have access to the same information, the O.C.A. argued.
“Beyond the truth and transparency in labeling issue, every U.S. citizen should be concerned when a multi-billion dollar corporate lobbying group sues in federal court to overturn a state’s right to govern for the health and safety of its citizens,” said Ronnie Cummins, national director of the O.C.A. “Every precaution was taken to ensure that Vermont’s H.112 would withstand any and all legal challenges, and legal experts agree that that the bill will hold up in federal court. The G.M.A. is merely attempting to inflict damage on Vermont in retaliation for passing H.112, and to intimidate other states that are considering similar legislation or ballot initiatives.”