MONTPELIER, Vermont—A legal challenge hasn’t deterred Vermont authorities from moving forward to implement the nation’s first law requiring labeling of genetically modified organisms in food.
The Office of Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell has scheduled three public meetings for next week to introduce draft rules to implement Act 120, the GMO labeling law that is the subject of litigation in federal court. The meetings will be held Oct. 21 in Burlington, Oct. 22 in Montpelier and Oct. 24 in Brattleboro.
Sorrell anticipates making the draft rules public in advance of the meetings, according to an Oct. 10 press release.
Last month, the Grocery Manufacturers Association and other organizations that filed a lawsuit to invalidate Act 120 moved to enjoin Vermont authorities from implementing the law until the litigation has run its course. Other plaintiffs in the lawsuit include the Snack Food Association, International Dairy Foods Association and National Association of Manufacturers.
Among other arguments, the food groups contend the law fails to serve a legitimate government purpose, violates federal labeling requirements and is preempted by the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
Act 120 doesn’t take effect until July 1, 2016, but the food groups argue the industry will suffer irreparable harm without a preliminary injunction due in part to costs they must incur to comply with the law.
“Manufacturers have no way to reliably distinguish ingredients derived from genetically engineered plant varieties from those that are not," plaintiffs stated in their request for a preliminary injunction filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont. “The changes manufacturers would need to demand from their suppliers and initiate in their own facilities to segregate ingredients require money and time—much more time than the Act’s July 1, 2016 effective date allows."
A federal judge, Christina Reiss, may hear oral arguments in December on the motion for the injunction and a separate request by the defendants to dismiss the lawsuit. Plaintiffs also have moved to amend their complaint.
In a motion filed in August to dismiss the lawsuit, Sorrell’s legal team argued the labeling law advances a number of legitimate state interests, including preventing confusion about whether consumers are purchasing genetically modified foods. Food manufacturers are free to express their view about genetically modified foods, and nothing in Act 120 prohibits manufacturers from noting FDA’s viewpoint that such foods are not materially different from natural ones, the state lawyers said.
Last week, Reiss denied a request by two organizations—the Center for Food Safety and Vermont Public Interest Research Group—to intervene in the case.
The lawsuit in Vermont is being closely watched across the United States because it could have ramifications for labeling initiatives in other states. Lawyers for the State of Vermont said roughly 80 percent of processed food sold in the United States is produced with genetic engineering.