(Beyond Pesticides, June 11, 2014) Vermont is currently gearing up to defend against possible litigation its groundbreaking law to label genetically engineered (GE) food ingredients. The law, which is the first of its kind in the nation, was specially written so that it created the Food Fight Fund that allows individuals to donate to defend the law if it were to be challenged in court. The Vermont law and polling data show that consumers strongly want to know what is going into their food and are willing to stand up to industries that do not want consumers to have this right.
As of the first week of June, the Food Fight Fund raised just over $15,000, with over $$9,000 of it coming from outside the state. Most of the donations come in small amounts of less than $50, which is indicative of the grassroots structure of the GE labeling movement. The fund will be the initial money used by the Vermont attorney general’s office if the state’s GE labeling law is challenged in court.
Currently, the $15,000 is not enough funds to cover legal fees to defend this law. Lawsuits brought against the state, according to testimony by Assistant Attorney General Bridget Asay, could add up to as much as $5 million if the state loses the case. If the state wins the case, defense costs could still add up to about $1 million. It has become clear that industry does plan on challenging this law in court. In May, the Grocery Manufactures Association (GMA) said it planned to file suit in federal court to overturn the Vermont labeling Law.
Beyond the Food Fight Fund, the state authorized the attorney general’s office to devote any unbudgeted settlement revenues to the case.
“We do anticipate that once [a lawsuit] is filed and there’s more publicity across the state and across the nation, that we would expect that donations would increase into the fund,” said Sarah Clark, deputy commissioner of finance and management, quoted by VPR News.
The legislation, An Act Relating to the Labeling of Food Produced with Genetic Engineering, was signed into law on May 8, requiring foods to be labeled by July 2016. The law does not include a “trigger clause,” which is contained in labeling bills passed last year in Maine and Connecticut. Before going into effect, these laws require other states in the New England region (including one boarding state) with an aggregate population of 20 million to pass similar laws.
The momentum and excitement in Vermont and other states shows that the attempts by the biotechnology industry to squash GE labeling have not discouraged proponents, but instead have galvanized more and more people to become educated about the issue and take action. The defeat of GE labeling referendums in California in Washington has only spurred additional measures in other states that will be voted on this year, notably Oregon and Colorado, where advocates recently overcame their own court battle with the biotech industry to exercise the right to put a labeling initiative on the ballot.
Beyond these state efforts, buying organically labeled food is another way to stop GE ingredients from being purposely added during food production and handling. Under organic certification standards, GE organisms are prohibited, although because of USDA policies that allow the proliferation of GE crops, organic production is subject to genetic drift contamination. For this and many other reasons, organic products are the right choice for consumers. For more information on GE foods and labeling issues, see Beyond Pesticides’ Genetic Engineering website. You can also help support the Vermont labeling law by donating to the Food Fight Fund.
Source: VPR New
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.