Unlike other state GMO labeling laws (eg. bills that have passed in Maine and Connecticut), the Vermont law (Act 120) has no ‘trigger clause’ and will take effect on July 1, 2016 regardless of action from other states.
As a result, opponents of GMO labeling have picked Vermont as the venue for a legal battle that will be watched by stakeholders in a raft of other states currently considering similar legislation.
GMA: Mandatory GMO labeling would imply that there is something wrong with GE crops
The Grocery Manufacturers Association has multiple issues with Act 120, but its main argument - outlined in a lawsuit challenging the Act filed in June - is that it violates the First Amendment because it compels manufacturers to “convey messages they do not want to convey” and prevents them from “describing their products in terms of their choosing, without anything close to sufficient justification”.
However, in a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, AG William H Sorrell said that while many firms worry that mandatory GMO labels would be seen by consumers as 'warning labels', there is nothing stopping them from adding additional information to provide context for consumers.
He added: “If a manufacturer believes that the mere disclosure of genetic engineering will convey a message about GE foods with which it disagrees, it is free to add onto its label its own views about the significance of genetic engineering or state that the FDA does not consider GE foods to be materially different from other foods.”
The required disclosures are ‘purely factual’
While the required disclosures are “purely factual”, however, the motivation behind the law is not simply ”consumer curiosity” (as opponents allege), stressed Sorrell.
“The passage of Act 120 was expressly prompted by health and safety concerns - not to mention the goals of environmental protection, prevention of consumer deception, and religious accommodation.”
And as such, the benefits of labeling “easily outweigh any alleged burdens on interstate commerce”, he argued, responding to the GMA’s claim that revising thousands of labels by July 2016 would be “difficult if not impossible” and that to comply by that deadline “some companies may have no choice but to revise the labels for all their products, no matter where they might be sold in the US.”