Attorney General William Sorrell is bolstering his argument in federal court to dismiss a lawsuit against Vermont’s GMO labeling law by offering testimony from experts including Jerry Greenfield of Ben & Jerry’s.
Greenfield says Vermont’s labeling law would not be overly burdensome on industry, as plaintiff the Grocery Manufacturers Association has claimed.
Sorrell originally filed a motion to dismiss in August after the association filed its lawsuit in June together with the Snack Food Association, International Dairy Foods Association and the National Association of Manufacturers. The industry trade group argues that Act 120, as the Vermont law is known, violates the U.S. Constitution by compelling manufacturers to “convey messages they do not want to convey,” among other arguments.
The state’s filing, made Friday in U.S. District Court in Burlington, augments Vermont’s original arguments in the motion to dismiss, including that states have “traditionally acted to protect consumers by regulating foods produced and/or marketed within their borders.”
“We have this opportunity to respond again, so we respond now with the perspectives of experts on different issues that are important, and addressing the fact that it’s not too burdensome,” Sorrell said.
The law requiring labeling of genetically engineered food sold in Vermont goes into effect July 1, 2016. The Grocery Manufacturers Association called that deadline “difficult, if not impossible” to meet, saying its members must revise hundreds of thousands of product packages.
Vermont would become the first state to require labeling of foods containing genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, a fact noted by singer Neil Young in a widely read blog post calling for a boycott against coffee company Starbucks.
Starbucks is a member of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which Young refers to as a “shadowy” group that Starbucks is hiding behind to support the lawsuit.
Starbucks denied Young’s charges, made over the weekend, in a terse statement, saying the company “is not part of any lawsuit pertaining to GMO labeling nor have we provided funding for any campaign.”
“Starbucks has not taken a position on the issue of GMO labeling,” the company said. “As a company with stores and a product presence in every state, we prefer a national solution.”
Companies much closer to home also are members of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, including Keurig Green Mountain (formerly Green Mountain Coffee) and Unilever, the parent company of Ben & Jerry’s.
Ben & Jerry’s supports mandatory GMO labeling and began removing GMOs from its ice cream last summer. The company did not respond to a request late Monday afternoon to a request for comment regarding the lawsuit.
Keurig spokeswoman Sandy Yusen said: “We won’t speak specifically to pending legal matters except to clarify that Green Mountain Coffee is not directly funding or involved in the lawsuit, despite what some have said or implied.”
Yusen said that like many organizations, Keurig is working to understand the complexities associated with the role of GMOs in global food systems, “including challenges related to labeling, the heart of the situation in Vermont.”
She said Green Mountain Coffee beans are GMO-free.
Attorney General Sorrell said Monday he expects U.S. District Court to schedule oral arguments concerning the state’s motion to dismiss sometime in December, or no later than the beginning of the new year.
“Let’s get on with the litigation, make a decision on the motion to dismiss, then we’ll see where we stand,” Sorrell said.