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Apr 2015
28
April 28, 2015

Federal Judge Issues First Ruling on New Vermont GMO Labeling Law


Nearly a year ago, the state of Vermont enacted a GMO labeling law that will require food product labels to state whether the products contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The law also prohibits products containing GMOs from using terms like “natural” in labeling and advertising. The law becomes effective on July 1, 2016. (Click here to see our earlier FAQs about the law.)

After enactment, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and other food industry stakeholders filed suit in federal court in Vermont to invalidate the law. In a nutshell, the GMA claims that the new law is unconstitutional and that certain portions of the law are pre-empted by existing federal statutes. The GMA filed a motion requesting the court to issue a preliminary injunction to stop enforcement of the law until the case is decided. The state of Vermont responded and filed a motion requesting the court to dismiss all of the GMA’s claims.

Late Monday, April 27, the court ruled on the motions. Overall, the ruling was not good for the GMA and other parties opposing the law. The court denied the GMA’s request for an injunction, which means that the timeline for enforcement of the law remains in effect. In addition, the court partially granted the state’s motion and dismissed three of the GMA’s five claims.

On a positive note for the GMA, the court indicated that the group’s claims regarding the new law’s prohibition of the use of “natural” terms are likely to prevail at trial. The court similarly ruled that portions of the law, as it applies to meat and poultry covered by federal statutes, are likely pre-empted. The case will now proceed through discovery and trial. A final ruling in the case is not expected until sometime in 2016.

What this means: While the federal court battle is not over, food manufacturers and distributors that sell products in Vermont should be preparing to comply with the GMO labeling law. On April 20, 2015, the Vermont attorney general issued final rules to clarify the requirements under the new law. The rules provide specific labeling requirements and steps that will be taken by the attorney general to enforce the law.

If you have questions about the Vermont GMO labeling statute and rules, or questions about food regulatory, labeling and safety laws, please contact Chris Predko (616.752.2190 or cpredko@wnj.com).

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