MONTPELIER, Vt. — States across the country are watching to see if the first labeling law for genetically modified (GMO) foods in Vermont stands up to what promises to be a huge legal challenge.
Monsanto Co. and the Grocery Manufacturer’s Assoc. (GMA) have filed a lawsuit against the state of Vermont alleging its new GMO labeling law violates the right of both to free speech. In a prepared statement, the GMA also said the law will affect ‘’eight out of every 10 foods at the grocery store’’ and the authority over food safety and labeling requirements for the whole country should rest with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, not individual states.
The safety of GMOs in food has been questioned for years, with supporters of agriculture claiming GMOs are proven safe and help meet demand for food from a growing population, by being more resistant to extreme weather and other elements like insects – which means fewer pesticides required to grow GMO produce.
Supporters of labeling laws, though, point to restrictions already in place on GMOs around the globe and a desire by buyers to know what’s in the food they’re consuming. ‘’More than 60 other countries have either banned GMOs or require mandatory labeling of foods that contain them,’’ Ronnie Cummins, national director of the Organic Consumers Assoc., stated.
He called the lawsuit by Monsanto and the GMA ‘’a desperate attempt to protect corporate shareholder profits’’ at the expense of the rights and health of consumers. Trade groups, however, allege the new speech requirements and restrictions contained in Vermont’s labeling law are too extreme given the high percentage of products that would require labeling, and that the state failed to measure or consider less burdensome alternatives.
The law requiring the labeling of GMO products goes into effect July 1, 2016. According to the lawsuit, the deadline will be difficult, if not, impossible to meet given the high volume of food that will require labels and the adjustments in labeling that will have to be made just for shipments heading to Vermont.
‘’They must revise hundreds of thousands of product packages, from the small to the super-sized,’’ said Matthew Byrne, a Vermont-based lawyer representing the plaintiffs. "To comply by the deadline, some companies may have no choice but to revise the labels for all of their products, no matter where they might be sold in the United States.’’
Vermont is the first state to get through lobbyists and other hurdles to enact a GMO labeling law, but nearly 30 others have similar measures in the hopper. And, legal experts believe the outcome of the lawsuit in Vermont will have substantial weight on the outcome of the GMO labeling measures in the other states.
Anticipating lawsuits, the Vermont law contains $1.5 million to pay for the legal challenge, but industry experts wonder if that will be enough against the deep pockets of industry giants, who reportedly spent more than $20 million against a GMO labeling proposal in the state of Washington (which was defeated).
According to the Indiana Farm Bureau, no GMO labeling measures were offered in the 2014 session of the state legislature, and the organization is not aware of any such bill being drafted for future consideration.
‘’There’s not been any kind of labeling legislation that’s been introduced or even gotten any traction,’’ said Andy Dietrich, director of public relations for the Indianapolis-based organization.