Vermont's AG challenges GMO lawsuit

Attorney general requests court to dismiss lawsuit from food manufacturer groups challenging the state's GE labeling law.

Vermont’s Attorney General William Sorrell asked the U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont to dismiss the lawsuit brought by food manufacturer trade associations to invalidate Act 120, Vermont’s law requiring the labeling of genetically engineered (GE) food.

On June 13, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), Snack Food Association, International Dairy Foods Association and the National Association of Manufacturers, filed a complaint in federal district court in Vermont challenging the state’s mandatory GMO labeling law.

“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. Yet 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,” GMA said in its statement.

However, Sorrell said Vermont’s motion makes the case that Vermont’s labeling law withstands all five challenges to its constitutionality made by Plaintiffs and that the Court should dismiss the suit without requiring the State to answer the Complaint or engage in further litigation.

“While the Plaintiffs prefer not to disclose that their products are made with genetic engineering, over 90% of the general public supports labeling genetically engineered foods,” he added.

The filing argues that both of the Act’s essential requirements (labeling GE foods and not describing such foods as “natural”) are appropriate under the First Amendment and serve legitimate state interests. It also asserts that Plaintiffs cannot show that the statute is impermissibly vague.

Next, the motion argues that Act 120 does not run afoul of the Commerce Clause, as Plaintiffs have not alleged a significant burden on interstate commerce, let alone any burden that would outweigh the law’s local benefits, a release from Sorrel stated.

Finally, the motion contends that Act 120 is not expressly or impliedly preempted by any of the four federal statutes identified by Plaintiffs; on the contrary, it is a valid exercise of the State’s regulatory power.

In addition, the State’s filing maintains that several parties do not belong in the case. It argues that one of the Plaintiffs, the National Association of Manufacturers, has failed to allege any harm from Vermont’s labeling law and thus has no standing to bring suit. The motion asserts as well that Governor Shumlin, Health Commissioner Chen, and Finance Commissioner Reardon are improper defendants and should be dismissed because they are not responsible for enforcing Act 120. Rather, Act 120 assigns that responsibility to the Attorney General.

Under the federal rules, Plaintiffs have 30 days to respond to the State’s motion. Vermont will then have an opportunity to file a reply before the Court decides the motion. Further, Vermont has asked the Court to schedule oral argument on the motion.

Sorrell’s statement said it is unlikely that the Court will issue a decision in this matter in the next few months.

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