VPIRG, 3 others file brief in support of GMO labeling law

Four Vermont groups filed an amicus curiae brief Monday with the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in support of Vermont’s genetically engineered (GE) food labeling law. Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG), Cedar Circle Farm, Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont (NOFA-VT) and Rural Vermont were instrumental in passing Act 120, Vermont’s labeling law, and are continuing to fight for it in court.

“The outpouring of support for the State of Vermont is compelling,” said Falko Schilling, consumer protection advocate for VPIRG. “In addition to our brief, national consumer, environmental and farming groups, other states, scientists, First Amendment specialists, and Vermont’s own Ben and Jerry’s and Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility all came together to make a strong case for Vermont’s law.”

After Vermont’s GE labeling bill became law in May 2014, several industry associations sued the State of Vermont claiming the bill was unconstitutional. In April 2015, the United States District Court for the District of Vermont issued a ruling that was largely in favor of the state, and held that Vermont’s law was constitutional under the First Amendment. Industry appealed part of that ruling to the appellate court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, arguing that Vermont’s law violates the First Amendment.

The Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic (ENRLC) at Vermont Law School, which represents the Vermont groups, prepared and filed the brief. The clinic has represented VPIRG for the past several years on legal advocacy for the bill, and continues to represent VPIRG and the Center for Food Safety, along with co-counsel from the Center for Food Safety, as amici curiae in ongoing proceedings in District Court.

The brief filed Monday lays out the legislative process for Act 120, explaining why Vermont’s legislative decisions are reasonable and constitutional, and drawing upon the extensive legislative record in this case. The brief also explains in detail why a 1996 rBST decision—in which the court held that Vermont’s dairy labeling law violated the First Amendment—does not apply in this case. The brief can be found on the ENRLC website. The State of Vermont’s own brief, which was filed last week, is available here.

“We were honored to file this brief on behalf of the coalition of groups that was so instrumental in passing Act 120,” said Laura Murphy, associate director of the ENRLC. “The legislative process for this law was very thorough and thoughtful, and there are many reasons why this law is different from Vermont’s rBST labeling law. We look forward to seeing this case through.”

Many other organizations also filed briefs in support of the law. They are:

— States of Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Hawaii, Illinois, New Hampshire, and Washington (represented by attorneys general)

— Consumers Union, Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, and Ben & Jerry’s (represented by Earthjustice)

— Dr. Ramon J. Seidler, Dr. Jack Heinemann, Dr. David Schubert, Dr. Allison K. Wilson, Dr. Jonathan Latham, National Family Farm Coalition, Our Family Farms Coalition, Sierra Club, and Center for Food Safety (represented by the Center for Food Safety)

— Public Good Law Center, Free Speech for People, and Consumer Action (represented by Ronald A. Fein, Seth Mermin, and Tom Bennigson)

— Public Citizen (represented by Julie A. Murray, Scott L. Nelson, and Allison M. Zieve)

The briefing at the Second Circuit will be complete in September, and oral argument likely will be scheduled for the fall.

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