Opening arguments heard in challenge to Vermont's GMO labeling law

Opening arguments heard in challenge to Vermont's GMO labeling law

Federal judge considers Vermont, Grocery Manufacturers Association claims regarding state's GMO labeling law

A Vermont law that mandates labeling of products produced with genetic engineering endured scrutiny this week in a federal court as a national food and grocery organization spars with the state over the law's constitutionality.

Judge Christina Reiss heard arguments from both Grocery Manufacturers Association representatives and Vermont's legal representation, Larry Robbins, on the law, which was passed last summer.

The law is the first state labeling mandate that does not include "trigger clauses." It takes effect on July 1, 2016.

Related: Industry experts share GMO info with National Research Council

A person shops in Whole Foods Market in the Brooklyn borough on May 7, 2014, in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Though it does not impact food sold in restaurants, the bill does require 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.

Filed by GMA on June 12, 2014, the lawsuit alleges that these requirements violate the U.S. Constitution by compelling manufacturers to "convey messages they do not want to convey," Dan D'Ambrosio of the Burlington Free Press reported.

During the hearing, the "natural" requirement yielded considerable discussion. Reiss said Vermont's position that manufacturers of GMO products can't say they were naturally grown begs the question of who can make that claim, D'Ambrosio's report said.

Reiss was quoted: "I can't imagine any food that doesn't have human intervention."

Reiss also questioned the perceived value of the label, given a significant percentage of commodity crops grown in the U.S. are grown from GM seed.

Robbins, however, said even a "may contain" GMOs label would provide value to the consumer, D'Ambrosio's report noted.

According to Food Safety News, the "Vermont Food Fight Fund," a fund to offset costs to defend the law, already has amassed more than $330,000.

Discussion on the GMO labeling issue also continues nationally, as legislators debate merits of a proposed bill to create a national GMO labeling standard backed by the Food and Drug Administration.

Are you interested in the GMO discussion? Penton Farm Progress Special Projects Editor Holly Spangler explores GE foods, GMO labeling and the genetically modified food debate in an exclusive series. Follow the links below for more.

Would GM Label Ensure Food Safety?
GM Labeling: Dollars Make a Difference
GMOs: The Fight to Label
Urban Moms on GMOs

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