Parties in Vermont GMO labeling lawsuit agree to dismissal
BRATTLEBORO >> Vermont has officially thrown in the towel.
In documents filed with the United States District Court for the District Of Vermont, the Vermont Attorney General has agreed to dismiss with prejudice the proceedings related to the Green Mountain State's GMO labeling law.
The state reached the agreement with the Grocery Manufactures Association, Snak International, International Dairy Foods Association, the National Association of Manufacturers, Syngenta, Du Pont, Dow, Bayer, Monsanto, and Conagra.
According to legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com, "The inclusion of the term without prejudice in a judgment of dismissal ordinarily indicates the absence of a decision on the merits and leaves the parties free to litigate the matter in a subsequent action, as though the dismissed action had not been started. Therefore, a dismissal without prejudice makes it unnecessary for the court in which the subsequent action is brought to determine whether that action is based on the same cause as the original action, or whether the identical parties are involved in the two actions."
In June 2014, organizations representing food producers filed suit against the state after the Legislature passed and the governor approved Act 120, which mandated labeling of food products containing genetically modified agreements.
The Vermont Attorney General's Office, in response, filed demands for documents from a number of companies related to information they held pertaining to the public's perception of foods with GMOs.
However, on July 29, President Barack Obama signed into law S.764, which establishes a "National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard" and calls for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to "establish a national mandatory bioengineered food disclosure standard," thereby pre-empting state laws such as Vermont's.
"The preemption provisions of the statute prohibit any state from "continu(ing) in effect as to any food or seed in interstate commerce any requirement relating to the labeling of whether a food ... or seed is genetically engineered," stated the stipulation for dismissal filed on Thursday.
On Aug. 2, Attorney General William Sorrell announced that because of Obama's signature, Vermont "will no longer be enforcing Act 120," because any attempted enforcement of Act 120 "could not reasonably be expected to recur."
S.764 allows food producers to use QR codes (or a quick response code, which is a type of 2D bar code that is used to provide easy access to information through a smartphone) or 1-800 numbers as a form of GMO labeling, forcing consumers to scan the code or make a call to get more information.
According to Fortune magazine, S.764 opponents are calling the bill the DARK Act, short for "Denying Americans the Right to Know," because these alternative labels discriminate against low-income consumers who lack the technology to access off-label info. "Others have criticized the bill because it isn't as stringent as a piece of Vermont legislation that will now be superseded by the federal law."
Between 75 and 80 percent of the food produced in the United States contains GMO ingredients.
"The Food and Drug Administration has said that they are safe for consumption, but most consumers argue that, safe or not, they have the right to know exactly what is in their food," noted Fortune. "American companies say that it's too expensive to add GMO labeling to their packaging, but former financial and food industry analyst Robyn O'Brien pointed to 64 countries where they are already required to include those labels."
Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 160.
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