Food Industry Threatens Lawsuit Over Vermont GMO Labeling Law

With Gov. Peter Shumlin signing a bill into law last week, Vermont is on its way to becoming the first state to regulate labeling of genetically modified foods. But the Grocery Manufacturers Association isn't taking the new law lying down.

It wasn’t a surprise when Vermont’s governor signed a bill into law last week that mandates the labeling of food containing genetically modified organisms. Nor was it a surprise that a leading food-industry group promised to fight the new law in court.

But here we are, and the lines are already being drawn. More details below:

Signing the bill: Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin characterized the bill as a breakthrough and a potential starting point for similar measures in other states. “Vermonters take our food and how it is produced seriously, and we believe we have a right to know what’s in the food we buy,” Shumlin said at the signing ceremony. “I am proud that we’re leading the way in the United States to require labeling of genetically engineered food. More than 60 countries have already restricted or labeled these foods, and now one state—Vermont—will also ensure that we know what’s in the food we buy and serve our families.” But the law has plenty of exceptions, as Bloomberg notes. For example, meat and milk aren’t covered, nor is food served at restaurants. (In the case of dairy products, however, that could change, as the state plans to study the issue.)

“No compelling interest”: The Grocery Manufacturers Association maintained its hard line against the measure, arguing that genetically modified foods are safe and that plenty of alternatives are available on store shelves. “Consumers who prefer to avoid GM ingredients have the option to choose from an array of products already in the marketplace labeled ‘certified organic,’” the group stated. “The government therefore has no compelling interest in warning consumers about foods containing GM ingredients, making this law’s legality suspect at best. In light of this fact, in the coming weeks GMA will file suit in federal court against the state of Vermont to overturn the law.” The Biotechnology Industry Organization, meanwhile, argued that the law could cost households $400 per year.

Ready to fight back: Vermont officials know that a legal fight is coming. At the signing event, Shumlin announced that the state would launch a website to raise funds to defend the law in court. “We are asking people all across America, and all across the great state of Vermont, to go to [the website] and make a donation, so that we can win the Vermont Food Fight Fund fight not only for Vermont, but for America,” Shumlin said, according to the Associated Press.

At least one big name in the food industry appears ready to comply with the law: Vermont-born ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s served free scoops at the bill signing, and company CEO Jostein Solheim spoke at the event.

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, shown signing a GMO labeling bill last week. (via Shumlin's Facebook page)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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