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Vermonters saying 'yes' to the labeling of foods containing GMOs.  (Photo: Cedar Circle Farm & Education Center/flickr/cc)

Denied! Powerful Industry Groups Get Setback in Effort to Keep Consumers in the Dark on GMOs

District court upholds constitutionality of Vermont's GMO labeling law; denies injunction sought by industry groups

Andrea Germanos

A federal court on Monday denied a request by powerful food industry groups to block Vermont's landmark law requiring the labeling of genetically modified foods (GMOs).

The plaintiffs, including the Grocery Manufacturers Association, had sought a preliminary injunction to stop implementation of Act 120, which passed in May 2014 and will take effect July 2016.

U.S. District Court Judge Christina Reiss wrote in her ruling (pdf) that the plaintiffs failed to show that they would suffer "irreparable harm," as is necessary to issue preliminary injunctive relief. "Because the State has established that Act 120's GE [GMO] disclosure requirement is reasonably related to the State's substantial interests... Act 120's GE disclosure requirement is constitutional."

The ruling further declares:

Plaintiffs lose both traction and credibility in their further contention that any State interest in "catering to personal, political, and religious views that reject science is neither legitimate nor governmental" and that, because the State allegedly "has no monetary skin in the game, there is not even a financial interest in the enforcement of [Act 120]. The safety of food products, the protection of the environment, and the accommodation of religious beliefs and practices are all quintessential governmental interests, as is the State's desire "to promote informed consumer decision-making."

The Associated Press adds that Judge Reiss "partially granted and partially denied the state's motion to dismiss the industry lawsuit, meaning the case is likely to go to trial."

Food labeling proponents of welcomed the court's decision.

"This important ruling affirms the constitutionality of genetically engineered food labeling, as well as the rights of Vermonters and U.S. citizens across the country," stated George Kimbrell, senior attorney for Center for Food Safety and counsel in the case.

He also called it "a crucial step in protecting" consumers' right to know how their food is produced.

Paul Burns, executive director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, called the ruling "a victory for Vermont consumers."

And Ronnie Cummins, international director of the Organic Consumers Association, said the decision "represents a tremendous victory for not only the citizens of Vermont, but the entire GMO labeling movement."

The ruling, Cummins continued, "signals that the courts agree that states have a constitutional right to pass GMO labeling laws," which he says "bodes well for GMO labeling bills that are moving through other state legislatures."

The court ruling comes days after an analysis by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) that found that industry groups spent $63.6 million last year—triple the amount spent in 2013—to defeat GMO labeling measures.

EWG policy analyst and report author Libby Foley stated: "We also know consumers are clamoring for more information about their food and a say about the agricultural practices that produce what they eat. So the question is why the food and biotech industry is so committed to keeping consumers in the dark that it’s spending millions of dollars to defeat customer-supported efforts to label GMO foods?"

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