Sep. 2 2015
Eight states and several organizations have filed briefs in federal appeals court supporting Vermont’s food labeling law from 2014, joining the state in its battle against corporate interests.
Attorneys general in Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Hawaii, Illinois, New Hampshire and Washington filed a friend-of-the-court brief this week in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York City.
Four environmental groups — the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, or VPIRG, the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont, Cedar Circle Farm, and Rural Vermont — also filed a friend-of-the-court brief. Several doctors, scientists, and business groups also support Vermont.
Laura Murphy, associate director of the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic, said in a statement that Vermont Law School was “honored” to file the brief on behalf of the four environmental groups that were “so instrumental in passing Act 120.”
“The legislative process for this law was very thorough and thoughtful, and there are many reasons why this law is different from Vermont’s rBST labeling law,” Murphy said. “We look forward to seeing this case through.”
The case is on track for the Second Circuit to hear oral arguments by this fall and make a decision by the end of 2015. Depending on what’s decided, that could push the case back down to U.S. District Court in Vermont for a trial, according to Attorney General Bill Sorrell.
“We’re pleased to have the help of businesses, of states, and the various other organizations favoring food safety and consumer rights,” Sorrell said. “Basically, it’s a First Amendment case, freedom of speech.”
The law would go into effect in on July 1, 2016 with two main parts: manufacturers would need to say there are genetically engineered products in their food, and they would not be allowed to call their products “natural” if the food contained genetically engineered materials.
Sorrell is comparing the case to an historic case that required meat packaging to show what country the meat came from. “It’s a straightforward, non-editorialized (labeling),” he said. “It’s not like tobacco products that say ‘hazardous to your health’ or whatever.”
The plaintiffs are four food manufacturers associations: the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the Snack Food Association, the International Dairy Foods Association. The groups appealed a decision from U.S. District Court Judge Christina Reiss that upheld Vermont’s law.
Most recently, in June, the Grocery Manufacturers Association wrote to Gov. Peter Shumlin to say that its members could end up paying $10 million per day in fines. The group said that was too much money considering that Vermont is the second-smallest state in the country.
Shumlin issued a snarky response: “Here’s an idea for the industry: Just label your products. All of them, nationwide. Sixty-four countries already do it. I’m sure the food industry in America could summon the moral imagination to be the 65th.”