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Vermont’s Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) Labeling Law: UPDATED!

Updated: Jul 9, 2020

Tractor driving down a road with dust trailing behind (Photos by Edwin Remsberg).

Not too long ago, I gave an overview of genetically modified organisms and labeling laws in respect to them. To summarize, there is currently no Federal law requiring a label to state that a product contains genetically modified products. It is also important to note there is no Federal definition of genetically modified.

With that said, on April 23, 2014, Vermont became the first state requiring labeling of GMO foods. Vermont’s legislature approved a bill requiring raw agriculture commodities and processed foods offered for sale in Vermont retail stores, with certain exceptions, to display special labeling if entirely or partially produced with genetic modified products. The law is supposed to become effective July 1, 2016, although Vermont, the first of its kind among states, has already faced challenges.

In April, U.S. District Court Judge Christina Reiss ruled against the Grocery Manufacturers’’ Association (GMA) and other industry groups in their request for a preliminary order to stop the law from going into effect on July 1, 2016. GMA is now appealing the Federal court ruling. Let’s take a look at what exactly a preliminary order is and what is taken into consideration when denying or granting the order.

Grass in front of farm and hills.

A preliminary order, or preliminary injunction, can be entered by a court prior to a final determination of the facts, legal arguments, and the like, which go into a full legal court case. The order would restrain a party from following through with a presented course of conduct. A preliminary order should only be granted when the requesting party is highly likely to succeed on the merits (facts, legal arguments, etc.) of the case and there is a substantial likelihood of irreparable harm unless the order is granted. Here, if GMA can show irreparable harm and is highly likely to succeed on the merits, the court may grant the order to stop the GMO labeling law from becoming effective before the full court hearing. That is not, however, what Judge Reiss decided.

Judge Reiss has said that showing irreparable harm is the most important requirement for issuing a preliminary order to stop the law from going into effect. Here, the Judge believes that GMA and other industry groups have only shown the possibility of harm, which does not meet the standard required for a preliminary order. GMA has filed a notice of appeal in Vermont Federal district court and will eventually file a legal brief outlining the associations’ arguments for the appeal in the coming weeks.

So why is Vermont’s law important to Maryland’s producers and processors? If Vermont’s labeling law stands against constitutional challenges, among other challenges, other state governments are bound to follow suit. This labeling law will impact the food industry substantially. With such a large possible impact, producers and processors should stay abreast of GMO labeling laws. Monitoring Vermont’s law may tell us what we can expect from other states, including Maryland, as the GMO labeling movement proceeds.

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