Author: Lee Ann Rush
You may recall that in April of this year, Vermont became the first state in the country to pass legislation requiring that foods containing GMOs be labeled as such. The law, known as Act 120, is scheduled to take effect on July 1, 2016. However, before the ink was even dry on Governor Peter Shumlin’s signature, Vermont lawmakers and food safety lobbyists were gearing up for the lawsuits they felt would certainly follow. Sure enough, the Burlington Free Press has reported that on June 5, 2014, four prominent food manufacturing groups filed suit to invalidate Vermont’s Act 120.
According to the papers filed by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the Snack Food Association, the International Dairy Foods Association and the National Association of Manufacturers in Vermont federal district court, Act 120 violates the Constitution, and an injunction to preclude its enforcement is necessary. “Vermont’s mandatory labeling law … 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,” claims the Grocery Manufacturers Association. Yes, you guessed it -- the crux of the argument as set forth by the food manufacturing groups is that GMOs are not harmful. Besides, being compelled to slap labels that they don’t agree with on their products is a violation of their First Amendment rights!
The Vermont Right to Know GMOs Coalition responded that Act 120 is solely about transparency. “The people of Vermont have said loud and clear they have a right to know what is in their food,” countered Falko Schilling of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group. Even though Vermont officials anticipated that Act 120 would be challenged in court, they acknowledge that defending this lawsuit could cost as much as $8 million, while a defense fund established to finance the effort has only raised about $20,000 to date. However, Vermont ice cream company Ben & Jerry’s, which has made the move to disavow and stop using GMOs in all of its products, has recently announced via co-founder Jerry Greenfield that it wants to help save Act 120.
Ben & Jerry’s, now owned by food giant Unilever, is changing the name of its brownie ice cream to Food Fight! Fudge Brownie for the month of July, and will be contributing a dollar from each purchase at the company’s Vermont scoop shops to the state’s Food Fight Fund. Several years prior to Ben & Jerry’s making the decision to eliminate GMOs from its products, Greenfield had testified on his own behalf in favor of GMO labeling before the Vermont Legislature, and is enthusiastic about the decision to ditch GMOs made by the company that still bears his name. “Now it’s all-in,” he said. “I feel much happier about it.” So will the rest of us when this legal challenge to common sense is defeated. Stay tuned.