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Jan Lee headshot

Advocacy Orgs Back Vermont In Suit Against GMO Labeling

Words by Jan Lee

With the lines drawn over Vermont’s recent passage of a GMO labeling law, two advocacy organizations have announced that they will file a motion to intervene in a lawsuit launched against Vermont by national food manufacturers.  A third has stated it will file an amicus curiae in support of the embattled state law. A motion to intervene is usually filed when an organization or person feels they would be affected by the suit, such as consumers, grocers and farmers in Vermont.

Paul Burns, executive director of Vermont Public Interest Group, said in an interview last week that VPIRG will be filing a motion to intervene in the lawsuit filed by the Grocery Manufacturers Association et al. With approximately 30,000 members, VPIRG is one of the largest consumer and environmental groups in the state.

“VPIRG was one of the groups that led the charge in passing the law, so naturally we have a strong interest in seeing it take effect," said Burns. “Our members are concerned about the possible health impacts of consuming GE foods, as well as a range of negative impacts on the environment linked to GE food production.” Burns said that VPIRG expects to file the motion to intervene sometime this week.

VPIRG is a coalition partner of Vermont Right to Know, which represents more than 200 grocers, manufacturers and other interested parties across the state and worked to get the labeling law passed. It’s also supported by a small but growing number of members from outside of Vermont.

“We’re very interested in being as involved as we can be at every stage of the process to defend the law that we helped to pass,” Burns said, noting that there are a number of other local and national organizations that have expressed interest in the motion.

One is the Organic Consumer Association, a national advocacy organization based in the heart of Minnesota’s farming region. Katherine Paul, the organization’s associate director, said that OCA has been a large supporter of the legislation.

“The Organic Consumers Association since just January of this year has invested over $250,000 in helping to pass the Vermont law,” Paul said. “Some of that money was spent to help provide outside legal advice on the constitutionality of the law even before it was passed. And we will support any efforts undertaken to either intervene this law and/or fight it in the courts if we have to.”

The Center for Food Safety declined to say whether it would be joining the motion. However, Senior Attorney George Kimbrell said that the center was committed to preserving Vermont’s right to require labeling of foods made from genetically modified organisms.

“We at CFS vigorously supported Act 120 throughout its legislative process, as we have with GE food labeling laws across the country, for over a decade.  In 2013-14 alone, 70 GE labeling bills were introduced in 30 states,” Kimbrell said.  “And that GE food labeling is central to CFS’s fundamental mission to protect the public and the environment and provide transparency in our food system.  With regard to the litigation on Act 120, CFS remains fully committed to doing everything we can to help protect the important and legally sound law from the Big Food industry’s baseless and irresponsible legal challenge.”

Rural Vermont (RV), another VRK partner, announced that it will file an amicus brief rather than joining as an intervenor.

“We’re a very small organization and don’t really have the resources to retain legal council to take us through that process,” said Andrea Stender, executive director of RV. Stender said the decision not to join as intervenor was not a reflection of the organization’s commitment to the spirit of the law. “We’re obviously very committed to doing what we can to ensure that the state is able to prevail in defending this law, because we worked very hard to get it passed. And a lot of Vermonters want to see labels on genetically engineered food.”

The amicus curiae filing will allow the organization to file a brief to ensure the court takes certain information into consideration when making its finding.

And while advocacy organizations have been busy strategizing the legal implications of the lawsuit, ice cream fans have been coming up with their own ways of lending Vermont some moral and monetary support.  Last week the ice cream line Ben & Jerry’s announced that it would be temporarily renaming one of its products “in support of Vermont’s first-in-the-nation GMO-labeling law.” It will also donate $1 from every sale of that newly named “Food Fight Fudge Brownie” (formerly called Chocolate Brownie) made at its Vermont locations.

“This is a pretty simple issue,” stated co-founder Jerry Greenfield. “Vermonters want the right to know what’s in their food.”

Ben & Jerry’s, which is now owned by Unilever, originated in Vermont. It has a long history of supporting advocacy issues including GMO labeling laws. In 2005 the company became the first ice cream company to use Fair Trade certified sources. It has been working toward converting all of its sourcing to non-GMO ingredients -- a requirement for maintaining membership in Fair Trade, but also a well-publicized priority for the popular ice cream company.

Not all may be happy with the increasing publicity over Ben & Jerry's staunch support of GMO labeling, however. Unilever is a member of the "Big Foods" associations that are currently suing to stop Vermont's GMO labeling law. However, the corporation has so far continued to honor the deal it made at the time of the company's purchase, which was to permit the Ben & Jerry's board to continue to exercise leadership in advocacy issues. With a clear support of Ben & Jerry's Fair Trade efforts, the agreement doesn't seem to be hurting either entity.

Image of sign: Public Domain

Image of Ben & Jerry's truck: Hede2000

Jan Lee headshotJan Lee

Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.

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