Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Food Industry Challenges Vermont Law In Court While it Pushes Congress to Block all GMO Labeling Requirements

New York, NY — Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, joined Ben and Jerry’s and Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility in submitting an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief today to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in support of the Vermont GMO labeling law.

The Vermont law, scheduled to go into effect in July, 2016, requires the labeling of genetically engineered food sold in the state. The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), which includes large national companies like Pepsi Cola and Coca Cola that have long opposed GMO labeling, is seeking an injunction to stop the Vermont law from going into effect. The U.S. District Court previously rejected GMA’s request for an injunction, and now the trade association is appealing that decision.

But some companies support the law, as do a broad range of consumer and environmental groups including Consumers Union.

“Vermont’s law will help consumers make more informed decisions about the food they eat and can be implemented at little cost to manufacturers,” said Jean Halloran, Director of food policy initiatives at Consumers Union. “The food industry should stop fighting the public’s right to know in court and start listening to what their customers want.”

Consumers Union and the other parties submitting the amicus brief argue that Vermont’s law serves a number of legitimate state interests, including advancing public health and safety, informing consumers concerned about potential environmental effects, avoiding consumer confusion, and protecting religious practices. In addition, the brief notes that the labeling requirement does not impose significant – let alone irreparable – harm on the affected companies, as the GMA claims.

While opponents of the law claim it would raise food prices, Consumers Union and the other parties note in their brief that the costs for food companies to comply with the law would be negligible. “It costs next to nothing to change the wording on a package,” said Halloran. “Companies do it all the time and they have until January 2017 before Vermont starts enforcing its law.” A report commissioned by Consumers Union and prepared by an economic consulting firm, EcoNorthwest, found that based on existing analyses, requiring GMO labels on products would cost individual consumers less than a penny a day.

“The easiest, cheapest way for companies to comply with the Vermont law would be simply to label all products nationally if they contain GMOs,” said Halloran. “This is what consumers want. A Consumer Reports poll in 2014 found that 92 percent of consumers support mandatory labeling of GMOs.”

In addition to challenging the Vermont law in court, GMA is supporting a bill in Congress that would nullify the measure and prohibit any other state law or the U.S. Food and Drug Administration from mandating GMO labeling. Misleadingly named the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, consumer groups are calling it the Deny Americans the Right to Know or DARK Act. The bill passed the House in July but is expected to have a more difficult time in the Senate.

“Vermont’s ability to decide for itself what kind of food labels it wants for its citizens is fundamental,” said Halloran. “We believe the courts will uphold that right, and strongly urge Congress not to interfere with states’ rights to label GMO foods.”

Contact: Michael McCauley, mmccauley at consumer.org or 415-431-6747, ext 7606 (office) or 415-902-9537 (cell)