Hearing is first day of a process that could take months
Big Food, led by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, is suing Vermont for bringing in a law mandating GMO labelling. Yesterday a hearing was held on the case.
EXCERPT: State officials say they are on solid legal ground that GMO labels are no different from other labels indicating what is in a food item.
Vt. GMO labeling law faces 1st legal challenge
By Logan Crawford
Wcax.com, 7 Jan 2015
National food groups are suing the state of Vermont over the labeling of genetically engineered foods. The state passed legislation to label every food product that has GMOs, but Wednesday the law faced its first legal challenge.
The hearing is not the start of the trial. It's a chance for supporters of GMO labeling to try to get the case thrown out and opponents to stall the labeling of genetically engineered foods.
National food manufacturers are suing the Green Mountain State, arguing Vermont's new GMO labeling law is unconstitutional. Opponents say the labels would violate First Amendment free speech rights. And they argue the state of Vermont has no authority to order GMO labeling while the Food and Drug Administration does not require genetically engineered foods be labeled.
Attorneys for the food associations declined to comment on camera about the case but sent a statement to WCAX saying: "The U.S. Constitution prohibits Vermont from regulating nationwide distribution and labeling practices that facilitate interstate commerce. That is the sole province of the federal government."
Another argument some in the food industry have made is that GMO labels could wrongly imply foods are unsafe.
Walter Judge is a lawyer who came to watch the proceedings.
"Whether it'll make food more expensive, and whether the labeling will actually have its intended effect or whether it's really intended to stigmatize certain foods just by labeling them," said Judge.
But state officials say they are on solid legal ground that GMO labels are no different from other labels indicating what is in a food item.
"The same way they're required to disclose sugar content, fat content, calories, salt, whatever. It's not caution this is harmful to your health, it's just for consumers to look at two packages, see what's in them and make a decision on which they want to buy," said Bill Sorrell, D-Vt. Attorney General.
A U.S. District Court judge is considering the state's motion to dismiss the lawsuit and the industry's motion to block the law from taking effect until after the legal case is decided. Sorrell says Wednesday's hearing is just the first day of a process that could take months. The lawsuit will take even longer.
"I'll be really surprised if this case is over in the next few years, it's going to take a long time. But we're fighting, and we hope to have the law upheld," said Sorrell.
The GMO labeling law is scheduled to start July 1, 2016, but the judge's decision on this hearing will determine when the law will take effect and if the case will go to trial. The state has a fund to help with legal costs called the Vermont Food Fight Fund. Donations from individuals to the likes of Ben & Jerry's have raised more than $330,000 so far according to the Food Fight Fund's Twitter.