Food industry groups call Vt. GMO labeling law unconstitutional - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Food industry groups call Vt. GMO labeling law unconstitutional

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BURLINGTON, Vt. - Vt. Attorney General Bill Sorrell is working on his response to a lawsuit challenging the state's new GMO labeling law.

The lawsuit calls the law unconstitutional and the Burlington based attorney who filed the suit declined a request for an interview.

Legal expert Cheryl Hanna from Vermont Law School says the complaint raises interesting questions for a judge's consideration.

In a 22-page filing, lawyers for a variety of food industry groups argue Vermont's new labeling law violates the constitution.

The suit comes just more than a month after Gov. Peter Shumlin, D- Vermont, signed it into law.

"This is no surprise," said Hanna.

Hanna says the complaint challenges the validity of the law based upon several factors:
  • the supremacy of federal law
  • freedom of speech
  • lack of clarity
  • exemptions for Vermont's favored industries.
"And I think we're just going to have to wait and see on how the court rules on each one of these issues. I don't anticipate that this is going to be a quick resolution," said Hanna.

The law requires that by 2016, producers label products with genetically engineered ingredients sold in Vermont, but Hanna says the court is likely to put a hold on the law's requirements until the legal issues are resolved.

That could easily take more than two years.

"One of the things the court is going to have to wrestle with is whether or not GMO labeling signals to consumers that the food is unsafe that really fundamentally is the crux of the issue," said Hanna.

Those who wrote the law argue Vermonters have a right to know what's in their food, but lawyers for food industry groups say requiring a label will cause consumers to believe there are negative health effects associated with genetically engineered foods, an idea they say is not grounded in science.

"Lawsuits like this are extremely expensive," said Hanna.

As law-makers crafted the bill, the discussion about a possible challenge centered around when, not if, it would arrive.

Other states passed similar laws but those don't take effect until other states sign on. Vermont decided to go at it alone, establishing a legal-defense fund to which anyone in the world can contribute.

"And I suspect that now that this lawsuit has been filed, we may see more money coming into that fund," said Hanna.

The fund had $16,500 in it prior to the suit's filing Thursday and has since risen above $18,000. But the Attorney General estimates it will cost the state a million dollars and the state will be on the hook for as much as $5 million if Vermont loses and has to pay lawyers' fees for both sides.

The unique defense fund is also being challenged by the industry groups. They argue that it shows Vermont's lack of commitment to the law.

A representative at the Attorney General's office says they still have not officially been served with the lawsuit, and once they, lawyers in the office will spend a matter of weeks or months crafting a legal response.

Click here to read the lawsuit.

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Food industry sues Vermont over GMO labeling law

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