Requiring Labels for Genetically Engineered Foods

Read about the Clinic's role in the passage and defense of Vermont's first-in-the-nation labeling law for genetically engineered foods! Working with our clients and partners, we saw it through the legislature, the courts, and celebration as the law went into effect. Though Congress responded by passing a national "labeling" standard to stop Vermont's law from going forward, the labeling landscape in the United States has changed as a result of Vermont's law.

In 2012, the Clinic began representing the Vermont Public Interest Research Group in legal advocacy toward the passage and defense of labeling requirements for genetically engineered foods in Vermont. Though "GE" foods have been on the market and have been consumed by the public for years, the United States Food and Drug Administration does not require safety testing for these foods. Instead, there are potential health risks and uncertainties stemming from the consumption of GE foods. There are also environmental and health concerns associated with increased herbicide and pesticide use on GE crops; threats of contamination to non-GE and organic agriculture; and social justice issues for farmers and communities influenced by GE practices. For these and other reasons, the public—in both the United States and Vermont—overwhelmingly supports labeling for GE foods.

In Vermont, we worked closely with VPIRG and other state partners including Rural Vermont, the Northeast Organic Farming Association, and Cedar Circle Farm to advance a defensible labeling law. We completed comprehensive research on the constitutionality of state labeling legislation, met with and provided materials to numerous state officials, and testified several times before the Vermont legislature. Vermont's labeling bill, H.112, passed the House of Representatives on May 10, 2013, with a vote of 99-42. On April 16, 2014, the Senate passed H.112 with a vote of 28-2, and the House concurred on April 23, 114-30. The bill became law on May 8 when the Governor signed Act 120 into effect on the Statehouse steps. The law requires companies to disclose whether their foods are produced with genetic engineering (the disclosure requirement) and prohibits companies from using the word "natural" to describe foods that were produced with genetic engineering (the "natural" prohibition).

Click here to see a fun PowerPoint on the history of Act 120!

Filing a motion to intervene in the GMO labeling caseShortly after, the Grocery Manufacturers' Association and other industry groups sued the State in federal district court in Vermont, claiming that Act 120 is unconstitutional. We represented VPIRG and the Center for Food Safety, along with co-counsel from CFS, as amici curiae in defense of the law at the District Court level.

On April 27, 2015, Chief Judge Christina Reiss issued an 84-page opinion denying the Plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction and dismissing several of their claims. Read the decision here! Among other things, the Court found that Vermont's disclosure requirement is constitutional under the First Amendment and that the Plaintiffs are not likely to succeed on that claim, though the Court did indicate the State's "natural" prohibition would face an uphill battle. The Court dismissed the commerce clause claims related to the disclosure requirement as well as most of the preemption claims.

="Environmental law clinicians working on the GMO labeling law case" data-entity-type="file" data-entity-uuid="06a1cb4e-7a03-41c0-879e-9d8a5d4dafe8" src="/sites/default/files/inline_images/2d%2520Cir%25202015-Web.jpg" />Industry appealed the Court's denial of the preliminary injunction to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, where we filed an amicus brief in August 2015. Oral argument was held on October 8, 2015. Unfortunately, we did not receive a decision from the Second Circuit. After Congress passed the "National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard" in July 2016, the appeal was withdrawn. Similarly, in September 2016, the District Court dismissed industry's original challenge to Vermont's law pursuant to a stipulation by the parties.

Most of our filings from the lawsuit are available below. For additional filings from the case, please visit the Vermont Attorney General's website.

Most photos courtesy of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group.

Selected Documents & Pleadings

GE Labeling -Constitutional Law Memo (December 2012)

VPIRG-CFS Motion to Intervene (July 2014)
Memorandum in Support of MTI
Attachment 1 - Burns Declaration
Attachment 2 - Weinstein Declaration
Attachment 3 - Murphy Declaration
Attachment 4 - Kimbrell Declaration
Attachment 5 - Allen Declaration
Attachment 6 - Chrysler Order
Attachment 7 - Act 120
Attachment 8 - Proposed Answer
Attachment 9 - Proposed Order
VPIRG-CFS Reply in Support of MTI (August 2014)

VPIRG-CFS Motion for Leave to Join Motion to Dismiss (August 2014)
Motion to Join MTD
VPIRG-CFS Reply in Support of Motion to Join MTD (September 2014)

VPIRG-CFS Memorandum in Support of MTD and in Opposition to Motion for Preliminary Injunction (November 2014)
VPIRG-CFS Sur-Reply in Support of MTD (December 2014)
VPIRG-CFS Response in Opposition to Motion to Strike Sur-Reply (December 2014)

District Court Decision on Motion to Dismiss and Motion for Preliminary Injunction (April 2015)

Brief of Amici Curiae Vermont Public Interest Research Group, Cedar Circle Farm, Northeast Organic Farming Association
 of Vermont, and Rural Vermont (Second Circuit August 2015)

Order-Withdrawal of Appeal (Second Circuit August 2016)
Order-Voluntary Dismissal (District Court September 2016)