A Big Win for Your Right to Know

On Monday Judge Christina Reiss rejected a motion from industrial food companies asking Vermont to stop implementation of the state’s GMO labeling law. The judge also dismissed a number of the plaintiffs’ claims including assertions that the law violates the commerce clause and was expressly preempted by federal law.

Possibly the most important aspect of the ruling is that the law’s requirement that GMOs be labeled is constitutional under the First Amendment. The court declared “Because the State has established that Act 120’s GE disclosure requirement is reasonably related to the State’s substantial interests, under Zauderer, Act 120’s GE disclosure requirement is constitutional.”

Laura Murphy of the ENRLC commented on the case, saying “Judge Reiss’ 84 page ruling affirms that Vermont’s law to require labeling of GE foods is on firm legal ground. The clinic is proud to be playing a role in this important issue. We believe in this law. Vermont had really good reasons for passing it, and putting factual information on labels is a great way to convey information to consumers.” VPIRG and the Center for Food Safety (CFS) are Amici in the case represented by counsel from the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic at Vermont Law School (ENRLC) and co-counsel CFS. As Amici, these organizations have been litigating in defense of the law since June of 2014.

“The GMO food giants aren’t used to losing, but they were just knocked on their collective keister by the state of Vermont,” said VPIRG Executive Director Paul Burns. “Consumers across the country will no doubt take notice.”

Vermont’s first in the nation GMO labeling law was passed overwhelmingly by the legislature last year, and signed by Governor Shumlin last May. Passage of the law was supported by the work of the Vermont Right to Know GMOs coalition spearheaded by Cedar Circle Farm, the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont (NOFA-VT), Rural Vermont, and VPIRG.

Andrea Stander, Executive Director of Rural Vermont noted “This decision by the federal court is a strong validation of the three long years that Vermonters worked tirelessly to pass the GMO Food Labeling Bill. We are one step closer to securing our right to know if GMOs are in our food.”

“As Attorney General Sorrell has said, Monday’s ruling upheld the heart and soul of Vermont’s GMO labeling law,” said Madison Monty of NOFA-VT. ”The court’s findings have affirmed the solid legal standing of Act 120, and we are excited to have reached this important landmark on the road to the right to know.”

Next steps in the case may include proceeding to trial to resolve outstanding claims, or an appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Though the court found that plaintiffs are not likely to succeed in blocking the GMO disclosure requirement, the ruling indicated that the prohibition on using the word “natural” will face an uphill battle. The law is set to go into effect on July 1st 2016. Read the full text of the decision and stay tuned here for future updates on the case.