Business & Economy

Food groups to appeal federal court ruling on GMOs

GMO label SLIDERGrocery and food industry groups will appeal a recent federal court ruling that allowed Vermont’s GMO labeling law to go into effect while a court challenge is being considered.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association and other trade groups said Wednesday they will appeal a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Christina Reiss to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York. The groups will ask the court to halt the implementation of Vermont’s GMO labeling law, which is scheduled to take effect in July 2016.

The trade groups — Grocery Manufacturers Association, Snack Food Association, International Dairy Foods Association and National Association of Manufacturers — did not outline their legal arguments. Reiss’ decision last month indicated the trade group’s arguments did not justify putting off implementation of the law.

A GMA spokesperson said the organization could not comment on matters related to the lawsuit. But GMA said in a statement Wednesday that it would submit a legal brief outlining its legal arguments in the coming weeks.

“The court’s opinion in denying our request to block the Vermont law opens the door to states creating mandatory labeling requirements based on pseudo-science and web-fed hysteria,” said Pamela G. Bailey, president of GMA. “If this law is allowed to go into effect, it will disrupt food supply chains, confuse consumers and lead to higher food costs.”

Last week’s decision in U.S. District Court in Burlington indicated that the labeling requirement is constitutional under certain legal precedents. Reiss also rejected industry arguments that the labeling law violates the commerce clause of the Constitution and is preempted by federal regulations.

The law, signed by Gov. Peter Shumlin last year, requires food manufacturers selling in Vermont to label products containing genetically engineered ingredients starting July 1, 2016. The products can also no longer be labeled “natural” or “naturally made.”

The state claimed Reiss’ ruling as a partial victory, but she indicated that the state cannot prohibit the word “natural” or similar words on food products containing genetically engineered ingredients.

Attorney General Bill Sorrell said the state is open to discussing ways to expedite the appeal so the trial in Vermont can move forward on a reasonable schedule.

“This appeal was not entirely unexpected. We will now simultaneously continue this fight in the trial and appellate courts. Our goal is for the law to go into effect as scheduled on July 1, 2016,” he said in a statement.

He said the appeal will not hinder the state’s ability to defend the law.

“This is very doable. The plaintiffs will have to do the same thing,” he said.

The Food and Drug Administration does not have rules for labeling foods with genetically engineered ingredients. But the trade groups argue state labeling is preempted by federal law, though not expressly.

A statement by the GMA promoted efforts in Congress to pass legislation that would prevent states from implementing their own labeling requirements.

“This court ruling shows why Congress should pass the voluntary uniform GMO labeling bill quickly and federally preempt state mandatory GMO laws,” Bailey said.

Opponents of the bill say it would undermine Vermont’s labeling law.

“If that law were to pass, it would be a major blow to Vermont’s labeling law,” said Falko Schilling of the Vermont Public Interest Group. “Depending on how the bill comes out, they would have the ability to federally preempt us.”

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John Herrick

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  • Suzanne Danderolo

    The Food Groups claim Pseudo Science is the problem with anti GMO thought process, what about the Tobacco science that defends GMO’s. These compass have zero ethics.

  • Sally Burrell

    Thanks for the update on this important issue.

  • Mark Roberts

    I think Vermont missed a golden opportunity to further the Vermont brand and still satisfy the needs of folks who are concerned about GMO’s. A better approach would have been to create a ‘Certified by the State of Vermont to be GMO free’ label that manufacturers could apply for. Non-gmo food manufacturers across the country would be able to put a nice green label with the vermont state seal on their packaging to assure consumers that Vermont had set a standard and issued their approval.
    It’s not pseudo science to say something is GMO free. It is a fact (scientist agree 10 to 1) that GMO foods are not harmful to health. We should take a more positive approach and still attain the same result.