Full list: GMO News

VPR: Cookie Maker Says GMO Labeling Law Will Help More Than Hurt

Jan 20, 2015
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Last year, the Vermont Legislature passed a law requiring most food produced with genetically modified ingredients to be labeled by 2016. There are ongoing legal fights surrounding that law, but some small Vermont producers are already working to figure out how to comply.

Vermont Cookie Love in North Ferrisburgh, led by owner Paul Seyler, welcomes the new law and is already working towards sourcing all ingredients that do not contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Seyler says that from the beginning, Vermont Cookie Love wanted to create a product that was higher quality than anything available, so local ingredients have always been important to them. “When the non-GMO project came along, we really tried to be a part of that as soon as we could, just because it was in line with what we were already trying to do. So, it wasn’t as big of a jump for us as it was for others.”

Seyler says that being a smaller company is a great advantage for changing practices and ingredients. For example, Cookie Love recently switched a small batch of their cookie dough to organic flour. Although this could cost them as much as double the price of non-organic flour, Seyler says the cost increase to the customer will be miniscule, if any. “As we’ve evolved as a company, we’ve been able to save money in some places in order to better our product. So we might just find a way to do it without raising our price. That’s our hope,” he says.

Cookies, by default, have a lot of ingredients. So what were the hardest for Cookie Love to source non-GMO? Baking soda and salt were a challenge, Seyler says. His company also had to go on a search for a specific type of cranberries that are sweetened with cane sugar, instead of beet sugar. “Unfortunately, most of the cranberries were being exported to a European market that has much more strict laws about non-GMO,” Selyer says. He hopes that the new law in Vermont will help to keep some of the non-GMO ingredients closer to home.

There are a large number of small producers in the area like Vermont Cookie Love that will be affected by the new labeling law. Seyler says that many of these companies already have a commitment to high quality food. He explains, “The brand of Vermont is so strong, that I think most will understand what’s happening. I don’t know whether or not they will agree with it, but they’ll respect what this law is trying to do. It’s really trying to allow people to know what’s in the food they’re buying and make a more educated choice.”

As for Vermont Cookie Love, Seyler thinks the new law could even give their business a boost. “I don’t think this labeling law is going to hurt us as much as it is going to help us, because it’s going to show to the public our commitment in a way they wouldn’t have seen otherwise,” he says.

Seven Days: In Court, Vermont Makes Opening Salvo in Defense of GMO Law

Jan 7, 2015
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“Go get ’em today,” Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell said on Wednesday morning to attorney Larry Robbins, as attorneys in pinstripes and dark suits milled about a courtroom in Burlington’s federal courthouse. “Welcome to Vermont,” Sorrell said to another, working his way down a row of attorneys taking their seats in the courtroom.

What accounted for the sudden influx of out-of-state lawyers in Burlington today? That would be Vermont’s controversial Act 120, the law passed last spring that requires manufacturers to disclose the presence of genetically-engineered ingredients in foods. Signed by Gov. Peter Shumlin in May, the GMO labeling law is set to go into effect on July 1, 2016. If the law stands, it would make Vermont the first state in the country to require labeling of GE foods. Vermont’s law cites estimates that as much as 80 percent of processed foods sold in the United States contained GE ingredients.

Proponents knew a legal challenge to the law was all but guaranteed. It came in June, when four giants in the food industry — the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the Snack Food Association, the National Association of Manufacturers and the International Dairy Foods Association — filed suit against Shumlin, Sorrell and other state officials. The plaintiffs argue, among other things, that the labeling requirement is unconstitutional, violating the First Amendment by forcing companies to make statements they don’t wish to make. The plaintiffs also argue that Vermont’s law violates interstate commerce rules.

It will likely be months before Judge Christina Reiss either upholds or rejects those claims, but Wednesday’s oral arguments — which focused on Vermont’s motion to dismiss the case, and the plaintiffs’ request for a temporary injunction barring the implementation of the law — could offer a window into some of the legal nuances that could shape Reiss’s decision.

Reiss said early on that she’s confident her job isn’t to judge the merits of GE foods. (The plaintiffs maintain there’s scientific consensus that GE ingredients are safe, while Vermont’s labeling law says GE organisms “potentially pose risks to health, safety, agriculture and the environment.”) Instead, her job is to determine whether the law stands up in court.

That will depend on legal precedent, and the two sides spent much of Wednesday arguing over the case law they think best supports their position and discredits the opposing side. Both regularly cited two First Amendment standards — the less stringent Zauderer precedent, derived from a 1985 case, or the Central Hudson test, which comes from a 1980 case. Both deal with the government’s power to regulate the commercial “speech” of companies.

The plaintiffs drew frequent comparisons between the GE labeling law and Vermont’s unsuccessful attempt in 1994 to require labels indicating whether milk came from cows treated with the growth hormone rBST. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ultimately struck down the law, finding that solely satisfying consumer curiosity isn’t reason enough to require a manufacturer to make statements — even factual ones — they don’t wish to make.

Robbins argued strenuously that Vermont’s law is constitutional. “Having lost in the legislative arena … [the opponents] come to this court with constitutional arguments that simply don’t fit,” Robbins said.

On the other side of the courtroom, attorney Catherine Stetson countered that Vermont’s law is merely about satisfying the vocal opponents of genetic engineering. “The theme of [Robbins’s] argument is, ‘Give the people what they want,'” said Stetson — a point that seemed to hold merit with Reiss, who added a few minutes later, “I think there is a fair argument, and maybe more than that, that this is about consumer curiosity and nothing more.”

Stetson also argued that the Vermont law is invalid because of “preemption” — that is, the notion that Vermont has set itself at odds with the federal framework that explains how various federal agencies should deal with GE organisms.

Another point of contention on Wednesday revolved around a clause in the Vermont law that would prohibit foods including GE ingredients from being marketed as “natural” or “naturally made.” The law doesn’t include a definition of what “natural” is, though, and Reiss pushed hard against Robbins on that point. If genetic engineering isn’t “natural,” she posited, what about other advances in agriculture such as fertilizers, chemical herbicides and pesticides or hydroponic operations?

And finally, Reiss circled repeatedly back to a big-picture concern: What might happen if manufacturers opted solely to say on labels that foods “may” contain GE ingredients? Would Vermont’s labeling law actually achieve the purposes it set out to achieve?

There was some patently good news for the supporters of Vermont’s law on Wednesday. Reiss ruled early on to reject a motion from the plaintiffs that would have a struck briefs from the Center for Food Safety and Vermont Public Interest Group from the record.

The two other motions — the calls for dismissal, and an injunction — didn’t reach any resolution, though Reiss thanked both sides for offering her “lots to think about.”

After the hearing, Sorrell said Reiss had “tough questions” for both sides. “I think both sides can say we got our day in court,” he said.

It’s likely to be followed by more. Sorrell said today’s arguments — and Reiss’ opinions on the two motions — will serve as “the standard by which you go into battle,” giving litigants some glimpse into what the judge is thinking about their arguments.

In the meantime, work continues on translating the GE labeling law into the rule by which the law will be enforced. The AG’s office released a final draft of that rule last month, and will be taking public comment on the rule through January 28.

Sorrell said that case is being watched closely, nationally and internationally. “By and large, the average American, not just the average Vermonter, wants to know this information, and it’s not just out of idle curiosity,” said Sorrell. That interest is even prompting some donations. The fund organized to collect donations for the law’s defense — nicknamed the Food Fight Fund — has pulled in roughly $400,000.

But the AG’s office isn’t about to be “penny wise and pound foolish,” Sorrell said; the state’s contract with Robbins’ D.C.-based law firm is worth nearly $1.5 million. If the state loses the suit, it will be on the hook for paying the opposing side’s attorney fees, which could drive the total cost to the state up to $5 million.

Burlington Free Press: Poll: An appetite for labeling GMO foods

January 13, 2015
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A large majority of Americans support labeling of genetically modified foods, whether they care about eating them or not.

According to a December Associated Press-GfK poll, 66 percent of Americans favor requiring food manufacturers to put labels on products that contain genetically modified organisms, or foods grown from seeds engineered in labs. Only 7 percent are opposed to the idea, and 24 percent are neutral.

Fewer Americans say genetically modified ingredients are important to them when judging whether a food is healthy. About 4 in 10 said the presence of such ingredients was very or extremely important to them.

That’s higher than the share who say it’s important to know whether a food is organic, and about on par with the share saying they consider the amount of protein in a food an important factor.

For some, the debate over GMOs is about the food system overall. Andrew Chan of Seattle said he strongly favors labeling genetically modified ingredients, but those ingredients themselves aren’t most important to him. As a parent, he said his top concern is the abundance of processed foods.

“GMO ingredients aren’t the number one thing, but more than likely within a processed food I’d find something that is a genetically modified product,” said Chan, 41.

Genetically modified seeds are engineered to have certain traits, such as resistance to herbicides or certain plant diseases. Most of the country’s corn and soybean crop is now genetically modified, with much of that becoming animal feed. Modified corn and soybeans are also made into popular processed food ingredients such as corn oil, corn starch, high-fructose corn syrup and soybean oil.

Currently, the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t require labeling of genetically modified foods, saying those on the market are safe. Consumer advocates backing labeling say shoppers have a right to know what is in their food, arguing not enough is known about their effects.

The AP-GfK poll comes as several states have weighed in on the issue. Vermont became the first state to require labels for genetically modified foods last year, passing a law in May that will take effect mid-2016 if it survives legal challenges. Maine and Connecticut passed laws before Vermont, but those measures don’t take effect unless neighboring states follow suit. Ballot initiatives to require labeling were narrowly defeated in California, Washington and Oregon in recent years.

The food industry and seed companies have aggressively fought attempts to force labeling, and have pushed a bill in Congress that would block those efforts. The bill by Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kansas, would reaffirm that such food labels are voluntary, overriding any state laws that require them.

In a December congressional hearing on the issue, members of both parties were less inclined than the public to support labeling. Many questioned whether mandatory GMO labels would be misleading to consumers since there is little scientific evidence that such foods are unsafe.

According to the AP-GfK poll, public support for labeling GMOs was bipartisan, with 71 percent of Democrats and 64 percent of Republicans favoring labeling. Even among conservative Republicans, more than 6 in 10 favor a labeling requirement.

Jay Jaffe, a Republican from Philadelphia, says he strongly favors labeling even though he has no problem buying GMOs. “If they are cheaper and they taste right to me, I’ll buy it,” he says.

Still, he thinks there should be accountability in the food industry. “It should be there and not in small print,” he said of GMO labels. “People should be able to make a choice.”

Lucinda Morel, an independent who leans Democratic from Los Angeles, says she is very conscious of ingredients as a mother of three young children. She strongly favors labeling GMO foods.

Morel said she is concerned that so many foods have become modified “before we can see any ramifications or any fallout, if there is any, from making such changes so quickly.”

The food industry has faced pressure from retailers as consumer awareness of GMOs has increased. The retailer Whole Foods plans to label GMO products in all its U.S. and Canadian stores by 2018. And some companies have decided to remove the ingredients altogether.

WCAX: Vt. GMO labeling law faces 1st legal challenge

Jan 09, 2015
By Logan Crawford
Full Article & Video


National food groups are suing the state of Vermont over the labeling of genetically engineered foods. The state passed legislation to label every food product that has GMOs, but Wednesday the law faced its first legal challenge.

The hearing is not the start of the trial. It’s a chance for supporters of GMO labeling to try to get the case thrown out and opponents to stall the labeling of genetically engineered foods.

National food manufacturers are suing the Green Mountain State, arguing Vermont’s new GMO labeling law is unconstitutional. Opponents say the labels would violate First Amendment free speech rights. And they argue the state of Vermont has no authority to order GMO labeling while the Food and Drug Administration does not require genetically engineered foods be labeled.

Attorneys for the food associations declined to comment on camera about the case but sent a statement to WCAX saying: “The U.S. Constitution prohibits Vermont from regulating nationwide distribution and labeling practices that facilitate interstate commerce. That is the sole province of the federal government.”

Another argument some in the food industry have made is that GMO labels could wrongly imply foods are unsafe.

But state officials say they are on solid legal ground that GMO labels are no different from other labels indicating what is in a food item.

“The same way they’re required to disclose sugar content, fat content, calories, salt, whatever. It’s not caution this is harmful to your health, it’s just for consumers to look at two packages, see what’s in them and make a decision on which they want to buy,” said Bill Sorrell, D-Vt. Attorney General.

A U.S. District Court judge is considering the state’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit and the industry’s motion to block the law from taking effect until after the legal case is decided. Sorrell says Wednesday’s hearing is just the first day of a process that could take months. The lawsuit will take even longer.

“I’ll be really surprised if this case is over in the next few years, it’s going to take a long time. But we’re fighting, and we hope to have the law upheld,” said Sorrell.

The GMO labeling law is scheduled to start July 1, 2016, but the judge’s decision on this hearing will determine when the law will take effect and if the case will go to trial. The state has a fund to help with legal costs called the Vermont Food Fight Fund. Donations from individuals to the likes of Ben & Jerry’s have raised more than $330,000 so far according to the Food Fight Fund’s Twitter.

Food Navigator: Pro- and anti-GMO labeling camps square up for battle in Vermont: Clock is ticking on ‘unconstitutional’ law, says GMA

By Elaine Watson+
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Supporters and opponents of GMO labeling will square up in a courtroom in Burlington, Vermont, today (Jan 7) to present oral arguments over the merits of Act 120, which will require mandatory labeling of foods produced with genetic engineering.

Northeast Public Radio: Vermont GMO Supporters Decry Federal Bill Targeting State Level Legislation

By Pat Bradley
Full Article and Audio

A hearing of the subcommittee on Health of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce was held in Washington Wednesday regarding a federal bill that, if passed, would pre-empt Vermont’s new GMO food labeling law. Supporters of Vermont’s law are protesting what they say is an effort to deny citizens access to information.

House bill 4432, sponsored by Kansas Republican Representative Mike Pompeo, would require the definition of a bio-engineered organism, require any labeling to disclose the material difference between GMO food and comparable marketed food, and preempt any except identical state or local regulations.

Subcommittee Chair, Pennsylvania Republican Joseph Pitts, expressed doubts about allowing individual states to mandate GMO labels.  “There have recently been a number of state initiatives calling for the mandatory labeling of food products that contain GMOs. Food labeling is matter of interstate commerce and is therefore clearly a federal issue that rightfully resides with Congress and the FDA. I am concerned that a patchwork of 50 separate state labeling schemes would be impractical and unworkable. Such a system would create confusion among consumers and result in higher prices and fewer options.”

Subcommittee member, California Democrat Henry Waxman, countered that states must be allowed to make decisions that are right for their citizens.  “Even if there is not a compelling reason to require GE labeling at the federal level, that doesn’t necessarily mean Congress should tell Vermont and other states that they cannot require such labeling. I’ve always believed  states should have the right to act in the best interest of their residents. I want to hear from our industry witnesses why the Vermont legislation and potentially similar legislation in other states is so harmful to some legitimate public interest that Congress should override them. Absent a compelling reason otherwise I support letting states make their own laws  and govern themselves.”

Some Vermont GMO-labeling supporters were in Washington joining others from across the country to protest what they have dubbed the “Dark Act” or Deny Americans the Right to Know.
Members of the Vermont Right to Know Coalition ventured out in the storm Wednesday to show solidarity at the Hunger Mountain Coop in Montpelier.  Vermont Public Interest Research Group Consumer Protection Advocate Falko Schilling says the House proposal is a direct attack on Vermont’s new law.  “The reason that this bill is a direct attack on Vermont’s GMO labeling law is because it explicitly lays out that if this law passes no state could pass a law requiring the labeling of food because it’s genetically engineered. And we believe that part of the purpose of this bill is to try and overturn the law that was passed by the Vermont Legislature  just this last year.”

Rural Vermont Executive Director Andrea Stander says the bill is a direct affront to what Vermont has accomplished.  “The federal government rather than doing what everybody has been asking them to do, which is to establish a fair national mandatory labeling protocol, instead they’re attacking states’ rights. Given that they’ve been dragging their feet on doing anything in terms of labeling at the federal level to come back at us with something that just undermines the work that’s being done at the state level is,  it’s really frustrating.”

Stander adds that genetic engineering is a significant enough difference in how food is produced that people want to know.  “The fact that these major food corporations and chemical companies who are the purveyors  of genetically engineered food are so insistent that Americans don’t deserve the right to know this piece of information is just baffling. If it’s so great why not tell us about it?”

Shelburne News: Kate Webb opposes H.R. 4432, supports GMO labeling

December 18, 2014
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Representative Kate Webb, Assistant Majority Leader in the Vermont House of Representatives, appeared in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, Dec. 10 to testify before the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Health regarding H.R. 4432. Webb opened her statement by announcing that she was not acting as a representative of her state or government, but as a Vermont citizen speaking in support of citizens’ right to know if the foods they buy contain genetically modified organisms.

H.R. 4432, sponsored by Congressman Mike Pompeo (R) of Kansas, would codify the current voluntary food labeling system. In her testimony, Webb cautioned that H.R. 4432 would ultimately undo the work of Vermont’s recently passed Act 120, the law that requires genetically engineered products sold in Vermont to be labeled as such. Webb was one of the primary sponsors behind Act 120, which passed 28-2 in the Senate and 114-30 in the House.

“Most people would greatly prefer a national mandatory [genetically engineered] labeling system and national rules designed to restrict misleading claims of products being ‘natural,’” Webb stated in her witness testimony, citing a 2013 study by a University of Vermont professor that found more than 75 percent of Vermonters to be in favor of such labeling.

Webb offered further support for her opinion, saying “One of the great strengths of a capitalist democracy is not only do we cast a vote at the polls, we also do so in selecting the products we purchase. Transparency allows us to see how things work, be it government, financial institutions or the foods we eat—what is in them, where they come from, and how they are produced. This transparency allows us to make informed decisions, and ultimately build trust.” In closing, Webb urged the subcommittee to oppose H.R. 4432 and support the mandatory labeling of genetically engineered products.

H.R. 4432, titled “The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2014,” is supported by lobbyists representing companies such as PepsiCo Inc., the Grocery Manufacturers Association, and Monsanto Co., according to OpenSecrets.org.

Burlington Free Press: VT activists to fight ban on state GMO laws

Associated Press
December 10, 2014
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A state representative and some activists will travel to Washington in a bid to stop a federal law that would pre-empt states like Vermont from requiring labels on genetically modified foods.

Rep. Kate Webb, a Shelburne Democrat and a key backer of the GMO labeling bill that passed in Vermont this year, is set to testify Wednesday before a U.S. House committee. She’s then expected to participate in a rally in downtown Washington aimed at stopping the legislation sponsored by Rep. Mike Pompeo, a Kansas Republican.

In Vermont, meanwhile, local activists have set a 3:30 p.m. news conference for the Hunger Mountain food co-op in Montpelier with the same purpose in mind.

Brattleboro Reformer: Stonyfield drops out of trade group opposing GMO law

By John Herrick, VTDigger
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MONTPELIER >> New Hampshire-based Stonyfield Farm is one of two organic dairy producers that have withdrawn from a trade group seeking to overturn Vermont’s GMO labeling law. The other is California’s Clover Stornetta Farms.

The companies say they are “under fire” from consumers who support the policy, according to a letter sent to the head of the International Dairy Foods Association.

Vermont’s GMO law would require labeling of certain food products containing genetically engineered ingredients starting in 2016. The IDFA is one of four trade groups that have filed suit against Vermont, arguing the law is unconstitutional. the lead plaintiff is the Grocery Manufacturers Association.

“Our decision to stop our membership wasn’t that hard, honestly,” said Britt Lundgren, director of organic and sustainable agriculture at Stonyfield Farm. “I don’t view this as a big loss for us. Stonyfield is a strong supporter of GMO labeling across the country.”

On July 8, an organic faction appeared within the IDFA when five members, all represented by another organic trade group, sent a letter to the association’s president to express their “deep concern and unhappiness” with IDFA’s decision to participate in the lawsuit.

“We are not clear why IDFA entered the lawsuit, as the labeling law does not affect dairy ingredients. As near as we can tell, this was an internal decision, with little or no consideration for the diverse interests of the membership,” the letter states.

“I hope that IDFA takes this as message that they do need to do a better job of reaching out to all of their stakeholders,” Lundgren said.

But others, including Horizon Organic, Aurora Organic Dairy and Organic Valley, will retain their membership with the IDFA. They are also members of the Organic Trade Association, a vocal proponent of state GMO labeling initiatives.

“We still belong to the IDFA,” wrote Sara Loveday, a spokesperson for Horizon Organic, which is a subsidiary of the Denver, Colorado-based WhiteWave Foods Company, in an email to VTDigger. “But the organization has agreed that our dues have not and will not be used for anti-labeling efforts.”

Horizon decided to stay with the IDFA in order to have a seat at the table, Loveday said.

“We believe that the most effective option for fighting the IDFA’s anti-labeling actions is to use the power of our memberships to voice our opposition to their approach. As you referenced, we have made it clear to the IDFA that we do not approve of their decision to join GMA’s lawsuit against the state of Vermont, and we are in ongoing discussions with them about their position,” Loveday wrote.

Peggy Armstrong, a spokeswoman for the IDFA, said as far as she knows, no other members have withdrawn.

Though dairy products are exempt under the law, many producers use sweeteners, such as corn syrup, which often comes from genetically engineered crops. Even a company like WhiteWave, which owns Horizon Organic, has products in its portfolio that contain GMOs, a spokesperson said.

Some companies oppose the state labeling law, but prefer a uniform national policy. The trade groups in the lawsuit argue a patchwork of labeling creates a costly logistical obstacle for food producers..

Laura Batcha, CEO and executive director for the Organic Trade Association, which represents some of IDFA’s members, said member companies have a right to voice their own perspective, as long as they do not publicly attack the trade association.

“Having a policy as a trade association doesn’t require a unanimity of thought,” Batcha said.


Aljazeera America: In GMO labeling fight, all eyes on Vermont

Industry groups sued Vermont over a GMO labeling law; case could set precedent for states mulling similar legislation
December 1, 2014

Food activists and the industry are looking to a court case between Vermont and a major food distribution association as a bellwether for genetically modified foods.

In May the state legislature voted to require food containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to be labeled as such. If the law goes into effect in 2016, Vermont will be the first state to require such labeling. But first it will have to stand up in federal court: The Grocery Manufacturers Association — which is funded by a coalition of companies such as Coca-Cola, Unilever, Starbucks and Monsanto — and three other industry groups sued the state shortly after the law passed.

Now several other states with pending ballot initiatives and legislation that would similarly require GMO labeling are awaiting the district court’s decision. Arguments are tentatively scheduled for mid-December, according to Vermont’s attorney general.

“I know other attorneys general are watching this case closely,” said Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell. “Clearly other states are considering it. This is not a political issue. Most consumers think it’s important.”

If Vermont’s law is shot down in court, it would be a big win for the food industry, which has for years been trying to quash the growing push for GMO labeling. The industry argues that labeling is fearmongering, since the Food and Drug Administration considers food made with GMO essentially the same as non-GMO food.

In Vermont the industry is arguing that the state is trying to unfairly burden the business with its own labeling requirements and superseding federal regulations, which would be in violation of the Constitution’s commerce clause if it interferes with the free flow of food from state to state. The industry is also arguing that such labeling falls under political — as opposed to commercial — speech. Requiring a company to parrot the state’s political speech would be a violation of the First Amendment.

If the court upholds Vermont’s law, the case could have a domino effect across states considering GMO labeling laws. Twenty states have pushed for GMO labeling through legislatures, according to the Center for Food Safety, a pro-labeling group.

Connecticut and Maine have already passed GMO laws, but they include clauses that prevent the laws from being triggered until other states also pass legislation. Connecticut’s law require states with populations totaling more than 20 million to pass similar laws before its takes effect, and Maine’s law is in waiting until five other Northeastern states pass similar laws.

Colorado, California, and Washington have seen unsuccessful ballot initiatives pushing for labeling. Oregon activists have also tried to vote in GMO labeling. A labeling initiative was voted down in 2002, and another attempt in November is still too close to call, with votes being recounted.

Those delays would make Vermont the first state where GMO labeling initiatives would come to fruition, and activists are pinning their hopes on the court case.

“State-based labeling is something that hasn’t been really vetted by the courts,” said Falko Schilling, a consumer protection advocate at Vermont Public Interest Research Group, which is supporting the state with legal help in the case. “There will be more appeals [from the food industry], but this will serve as precedent.”

Grocery Manufacturers Association representatives did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story, but in a statement on the suit from August wrote, “Vermont’s mandatory GMO labeling law — Act 120 — is a costly and misguided measure that will set the nation on a path toward a 50-state patchwork of GMO labeling policies that do nothing to advance the health and safety of consumers … The First Amendment dictates that when speech is involved, Vermont policymakers cannot merely act as a pass-through for the fads and controversies of the day. It must point to a truly governmental interest, not just a political one.”

Supporters of the lawsuit are confident they can counter the GMA’s claims effectively in court.

“The GMO bills in Vermont, Maine, Oregon — they’re 99 percent the same,” said Will Allen, the owner of Cedar Circle Farm and one of the most prominent anti-GMO organizers in Vermont. “Four states have passed essentially the same law, so it’s not a patchwork. There is a patchwork of laws in dozens of countries, but these companies, they do business all over the world.”

The science on GMOs is controversial. While the FDA considers food containing genetically modified ingredients safe, activist groups contend that not enough is known about GMOs to guarantee there will be no negative long-term effects of ingesting GMO foods. Some studies have found that GMO foods are less nutritional and can cause digestive problems in animals.

Less controversial is the idea that GMOs are helping produce pesticide-resisitant bugs and herbicide-resistant plants, or superweeds.

Regardless of the science, pro-labelers say it can’t hurt to give consumers more information. The public seems to agree: According to a New York Times poll conducted in 2013, 93 percent of people said foods containing GMOs should be labeled.

But Sorrell and others point out that the government requires labeling of other aspects of food. “It’s a straightforward message about what’s in the product,” he said. “We don’t think it’s an undue burden. We believe in the same way that manufacturers are compelled to list fats and sugars, governmental interest overrides First Amendment protection in this case.”

However the judge rules, the case will likely wind its way to higher courts. Sorrell and his team said they would challenge a defeat and expect the GMA to do the same.

For some activists, that’s the point of the Vermont case. Labeling proponents acknowledge that having 50 states with 50 solutions to GMO labeling would be untenable. But they’re hoping that Vermont will eventually force the Supreme Court to act on GMO labeling for the entire country.

“The GMA will fight us state by state,” said Dave Murphy, the executive director of Food Democracy Now, a national anti-GMO organization. “They’ll probably appeal it up to the Supreme Court. We understand it’s going to eventually be a federal standard.”