Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell (file photo)
Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell (file photo)

BRATTLEBORO -- Late Friday afternoon, the Vermont Attorney General's Office filed a motion for dismissal of a lawsuit related to Act 120, which mandates all processed foods sold in Vermont that contain genetically engineered ingredients must be labeled to indicate that fact.

The lawsuit, which was filed by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the Snack Food Association, the International Dairy Foods Association and the Association of Manufacturers, states Act 120 violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution, the Commerce Clause and the Supremacy Clause.

In addition, the plaintiffs have maintained the federal government does not mandate special labeling because there have been no demonstrable safety or health risks related to genetically engineered foods. Therefore it is inappropriate for states to mandate labeling.

"The State's motion makes the case that Vermont's labeling law withstands all five challenges to its constitutionality made by Plaintiffs and that the Court should dismiss the suit without requiring the State to answer the Complaint or engage in further litigation," stated Attorney General Bill Sorrell in a press release announcing the request for dismissal. "While the Plaintiffs prefer not to disclose that their products are made with genetic engineering, over 90 percent of the general public supports labeling genetically engineered foods."

In the motion filed with the U.S.


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District Court for the District of Vermont, the Attorney General's Office argues that not only does Act 120 not violate those items outlined in the plaintiff's complaint, but also that the National Association of Manufacturers has failed to allege any harm from Vermont's labeling law and thus has no standing to bring suit.

Moreover, the document notes, the Second Circuit has ruled the only burden alleged by the plaintiffs "the cost of reconfiguring product labels and distribution channels for the Vermont market" is not capable of being judicially heard or determined under the Commerce Clause.

"Courts have repeatedly made clear that the asserted benefits advanced by Act 120 -- enabling consumers to make informed choices about potential health risks, environmental effects, and religious implications of food products -- easily outweigh any alleged burdens on interstate commerce," states the motion for dismissal.

The motion for dismissal also contends that Act 120 is not preempted by federal laws implemented by any federal agency.

Just last week, notes the motion, the circuit court for Washington, D.C., reaffirmed a five-year-old ruling that enables consumers "to make informed choices based on characteristics of the products they wished to purchase."

"Act 120 does not require manufacturers to state a particular viewpoint, such as whether GE foods are good or bad," states the document.

"The labeling required by Act 120 is a strict factual assertion," Sorrell told the Reformer. "It's not an opinion and it doesn't say anything is bad for you. It just requires that they say it contains GE ingredients, just the same as requiring calorie counts and the amount of sugar, fats or salt."

In addition, said Sorrell, the plaintiffs are not restricted by Act 120 from putting a statement on their packaging to the effect that the Food and Drug Administration has not received conclusive evidence that GE ingredients are hazardous.

"As long as they are truthful, they can say any other number of things," said Sorrell.

As far as the use of the term "natural" is concerned, he said, "Even Monsanto indicates products that contain GE ingredients are not natural. There is no First Amendment right to mislead consumers."

Sorrell told the Reformer he finds it interesting that the industry claims GE foods are absolutely harmless "But they don't want to let the consumers know there are GE products in the foods that they eat. The reality is, the polling in Vermont on the issue of labeling of GE foods indicates a strong majority wants this, whatever their politics, educational level or age."

The motion also asks the court to dismiss Governor Peter Shumlin, Health Commissioner Harry Chen, and Finance Commissioner James Reardon because they are not responsible for enforcing Act 120.

Bob Audette can be reached at raudette@reformer.com, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 160. Follow Bob on Twitter @audette.reformer.