A Vermont federal court has denied a preliminary injunction that would have prevented from taking effect the nation’s first state law requiring the labeling of food products manufactured with genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Grocery Mfrs. Ass’n v. Sorrell, No. 14-0117 (D. Vt., order entered April 27, 2015). Several food industry groups challenged the statute’s provisions requiring GMO labeling and preventing foods with GMO ingredients from bearing a “natural” label.
The court first examined the industry groups’ claim that the statute violates the dormant Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. It agreed with the groups’ argument that the statute seems to prohibit the use of “natural” in signage and advertising “regardless of where or how those activities take place,” and accordingly refused to dismiss Vermont’s motion to dismiss that aspect of the Commerce Clause claim. The rest of the Commerce Clause claims, based on the argument that the statute would require food manufacturers to change the labels they use nationwide, were dismissed; the statute “does not require [genetically engineered (GE)] manufacturers to alter their labeling, production, and distribution practices nationwide, and it is indifferent regarding whether and how GE products are labeled in other states,” the court said.
The court also denied the groups’ contentions that the state law was preempted by federal law and that the statute must be struck down in its entirety under the First Amendment, but it allowed to proceed the groups’ First Amendment claim that the “natural” restriction is vague because the statute does not define the term. Because the court declined to issue a preliminary injunction, the statute is set to take effect on July 1, 2015.