Vermont's Attorney General William Sorrel has drawn a line in the sand on GMO labeling, questioning claims from several food and manufacturing groups regarding the constitutionality of the state's GMO labeling law, Act 120.
The labeling law, which was approved earlier this year, requires labeling of GM foods sold in Vermont retail outlets as "produced with genetic engineering." The bill also stipulates that GM foods may not be labeled as "natural," "naturally grown," "all natural" or other similar phrases.
The Grocery Manufacturers Association, along with the Snack Food Association, International Dairy Foods Association and the National Association of Manufacturers, filed the suit to overturn the law on June 12.
Sorrell on Friday asked the U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont to dismiss the lawsuit.
"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," Sorrell said. "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."
The Plaintiff groups said the law imposes speech requirements not advancing a government interest and could allow the state to regulate nationwide distribution and labeling practices that facilitate interstate commerce.
Sorrell's filing, however, argues that the law's essential functions of labeling GMO foods and not allowing those foods to be described as natural are both allowed under the First Amendment of the Constitution and "serve legitimate state interests," a press statement from Sorrell's office said.
In addition, Sorrell's filing said the law does not violate 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."
Finally, the motion contends that Act 120 is not preempted by any of the four federal statutes identified by Plaintiffs and "is a valid exercise of the State's regulatory power."
Related: Vermont Passes GMO Labeling Bill
Sorrell's filing also took issue with the Plaintiffs themselves; the National Association of Manufacturers, for example, can't demonstrate harm from Act 120, the statement said.
The motion asserts as well that Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, Health Commissioner Harry Chen, and Finance Commissioner Jim 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, the statement said.
According to Sorrell's office, plaintiffs have 30 days to respond to the State's motion. The State will then have an opportunity to file a reply before the Court decides the motion.
Because the state has asked the Court to schedule oral argument on the motion, it is unlikely that the Court will issue a decision in this matter in the next few months, the statement added.
Interested in the GMO discussion? Farm Progress Special Projects Editor Holly Spangler has explored GMO foods, GMO labeling and the general genetically modified food debate in an exclusive series. Follow along using the links below:
GM Labeling: Dollars Make a Difference
Farmers Talk: GMOs and GM Labeling
GMOs: The Fight to Label
Urban Moms on GMOs