Vermont’s attorney general has asked the U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont to dismiss a lawsuit by a group of food manufacturer trade associations to overturn Vermont’s law requiring labels on genetically modified food beginning in July 2016. “The State’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,” William H. Sorrell wrote in documents submitted to the court on Friday. “While the Plaintiffs prefer not to disclose that their products are made with genetic engineering, over 90 percent of the general public supports labeling genetically engineered foods,” he added. Right after the Vermont Legislature passed the bill in May requiring labels on food products containing genetically modified ingredients, the state was sued by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the Snack Food Association, the International Dairy Foods Association and the National Association of Manufacturers. Lawmakers had anticipated such a legal challenge and included a $1.5-million legal defense fund in the bill to help cover the anticipated expense. Sorrell’s motion also argues that the Vermont law, as opposed to industry claims, serves legitimate state interests and is not vague, and that labeling GE foods and not allowing them to be described as “natural” is appropriate under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The food industry groups have 30 days to respond to Sorrell’s motion to dismiss, and the state will then have a chance to reply before the court makes a decision. Sorrell also asked for oral arguments on the motion, so no action is expected for several months.

  • First Officer

    The argument that the law will stand because it only asks for a factual statement is still arguing for compelled speech from an unwilling party. Unless the state has a substantial interest to limit First Amendment rights, and demanding a fact because you just want to know it isn’t it, the state cannot demand that the speech be made. You cannot go up to a person, for instance, and demand he declare his religion, regardless of whether or not any connotation is intended. It is of no consequence that the party compelled to make a declaration of a fact is then allowed to add explanations after the fact. It is still compelled speech without substantial interest. Furthermore, the anti-gmo groups have provided ample evidence that such compelled labeling of, “mere facts”, will be used to orchestrate boycotts, demonstrations, malicious marketing, even nefarious hit lists (NaturalNews, Mike Adams) against GMO producers and those who dare to sell them. This more than shows the undue burden that GMO producers would be subject to under this law, simply for bringing totally legal and safe products to market.

    They also argue that this is not for merely consumer curiosity but for health, etc concerns. However, they do so without showing such concerns actually exist. There may be groups that have health, etc concerns about older people working in the food industry or left handed people may make more mistakes. There is no limit to the number of concerns that could be entertained without supporting evidence.

    Third, the law specifically states as an aim to accommodate religious requirements. This is expressly forbidden by the separation of Church and State clause. This would be the equivalent of requiring all foods that are not Kosher to be labeled as so. Ingredients are a necessary but not sufficient condition to determine if a food is kosher.