Vermont Prevails In Defense of GMO Labeling Laws, Challenging Corporate First Amendment Claims

Vermont has largely prevailed in its defense of Act 120, its recently-passed law requiring the labeling of food produced with genetic engineering. The law requires food sold in Vermont that was produced with genetic engineering to be labeled “produced with genetic engineering.” Major agribusiness and industrial food manufacturers and processors challenged the law in federal district court with a variety of claims, including that it violates their First Amendment rights by forcing them to “speak” against their will. Free Speech For People filed an amicus brief in the case, as did the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, the Center for Food Safety, and the Vermont Community Law Center.

On Monday, April 27, Chief Judge Christina Reiss issued an 84-page opinion rejecting nearly all of industry’s claims. She readily disposed of industry’s claims that a food labeling law was “political speech” or discriminated against corporate “viewpoints,” instead finding that the law is an ordinary product labeling requirement. And as for the Grocery Manufacturers Association’s discrimination claims, the judge dryly noted that the corporate plaintiffs “are not a politically unpopular group that has been subjected to purposeful and unconstitutional discrimination.”

While some of the trade groups’ claims will proceed to trial, the judge completely denied industry’s request to block implementation of the law while trial is pending. And the judge specifically found that, based on the information presented so far, the “compelled speech” claim (on which Free Speech For People’s amicus brief focused) is not likely to succeed at trial.

On the ruling, Legal Director Ron Fein explained, “Overall, this decision is a significant victory for the people of Vermont, who have the right to know what’s in their food so that they can make informed decisions. The decision is also a line in the sand against encroaching corporate First Amendment challenges to disclosure and labeling laws. Of course, higher courts might step in to save industry’s bacon. But in Vermont, industrial food manufacturing corporations just got a lesson in people power.”

Free Speech For People thanks Vermont attorney Anthony Iarrapino for assistance with our amicus brief.

Download the Order on Motions [PDF]

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