Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin on Thursday signed Vermont s first-in-the-nation GMO labeling bill into law on the Statehouse steps in Montpelier. Joining him
Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin on Thursday signed Vermont s first-in-the-nation GMO labeling bill into law on the Statehouse steps in Montpelier. Joining him was Brigid Armbrust, 11, of West Hartford (in black), who launched a letter-writing campaign in support of GMO labeling. (Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger)

MONTPELIER -- Vermont may hire national guns to help defend its GMO labeling law.

"We're going to fight fire with fire," Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell said in an interview Thursday.

Vermont is gearing up to defend what could be the nation's first law requiring food manufacturers to label products containing genetically engineered ingredients starting in July 2016.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association and other national trade groups last week sued the state, arguing the law is unconstitutional. The groups hired the global law firm Hogan Lovells, which has 2,500 lawyers, according to the firm's website.

The state is now considering beefing up its internal legal team with some additional high-end talent, Sorrell said. Though his office has been "talking to some outside counsel," Vermont will retain "ultimate control" over the case, he said.

"If we go with outside counsel for their assistance we will maintain control of the case and play a very, very active role," he said. "We would not just turn the case over to outside counsel."

Sorrell estimates it would cost win the case at $1 million and $8 million or more to lose. Hiring outside counsel will bump this anticipated cost higher, he said.

"I wouldn't be surprised to see that million dollar estimate of defending to be doubled," Sorrell said.

This is not the first time the state has hired outside counsel. Appellate attorney David Frederick represented Vermont in its case against Entergy, the operator of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, Sorrell said.

Vermont nearly doubled the size of its private donation-funded litigation trust fund since the trade groups filed suit last week. The state has raised about $33,000 through its online legal defense fund, Foodfightfundvt.org.

As of last week, about two-thirds of the fund was supported through out-of-state donations.

Sarah Clark, the deputy commissioner of the Department of Finance and Management, said there has been an uptick in donations since the lawsuit was filed.

The recent increase was possibly correlated to Ben and Jerry's promotion of the law with a new ice cream flavor on Monday, she said. The Vermont ice cream company announced on Monday it will donate $1 for every scoop of "Food Fight Fudge Brownie" sold at its locations in Burlington and Waterbury.