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At Issue: GMO Labeling Law's Future - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

At Issue: GMO Labeling Law's Future

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SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. -

This week, the state saw its first challenge to the new GMO labeling law.

A coalition of food industry associations have filed a federal suit, trying to stop it from taking effect.

The law requires food producers to indicate any genetically modified ingredients on their labels. The lawsuit makes multiple claims against the state, including violating manufacturers rights to free speech because it mandates labeling, interferes with their marketing, and that federal law already controls what the state GMO law is attempting to cover.

Cat Viglienzoni spoke to Attorney General Bill Sorrell about the national movement and what could delay the new law from taking effect.

Reporter Cat Viglienzoni: "Talk a little bit about how the national movement is intertwining with this."

Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell: "Well, Connecticut and Maine passed genetically-engineered food labeling laws, but they had these triggers requiring a cerain number of other states to pass the statutes before their laws would go into effect. The Vermont legislature decided not to go with that kind of trigger, and our law is going to go into effect July 1, 2016. Now in the interim, my office has to go through a rule-making process to put some flesh on the bones of what the labels are actually going to say, how prominent they're going to be, where they will be, what they will say, and such. But we're going to be the lead state, and this is a big issue nationally, and so I'm not surprised that most of the money that has come in has been from out of state, and my guess is that the lion's share of the monies that go into the fund will be coming from other states."

Reporter: "So you had mentioned that you had to put flesh on the bones, so to speak, for this rule. What are you hearing from food producers? Because we've done a couple stories now where we've talked to them and they say 'Look, we don't know what's coming our way'."

Sorrell: "The concerns are, for example, from the retailers, if it's fresh produce, what's the nature of the notice that they're going to give you. You're not going to put a label on a tomato or on an ear of corn or whatever. So where will they need to put what kind of a warning in their store. So we're going to be answering a lot of questions in the regs, which we hope to get out late this year, certainly by next spring sometime or the summer so at least a year head start for those who are going to be bound by the labeling law to know what the rules and regulations are going to be.

Now, on the other hand, if an injunction is handed down by the court, a preliminary injunction to put a halt to the labeling law while the case is being litigated, then it might well be a long time before Vermont's law takes effect."

Reporter: "And so what happens then if you do have to delay this law? What does that mean for your office?"

Sorrell: "Well, it means if we're sued then we will be defending the law and we'll be in litigation, probably in federal court, federal court trial level and then likely and appeal to the intermediate federal appeals court, and then possibly a case of this magitiude, an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. So we will probably just stay the course in both ways, on the lawsuit on the one hand and the rule-making on the other."

The Attorney General expects defending against the suit could cost more than a million dollars. There is a fund to help the state defend the new law, and as of Friday, it had about $20,000 in it.

Monday, the state and Ben & Jerry's are hosting a Food Fight Fund Rally at their Church Street location at 2 p.m.

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