A federal court has denied Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG) and the Center for Food Safety’s (CFS’s) motion to intervene in a lawsuit challenging Vermont’s statute requiring food manufacturers to label their products if they contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Grocery Mfrs. Ass’n v. Sorrell, No. 14-0117 (U.S. Dist. Ct., D. Vt., order entered October 7, 2014). In their motion to intervene, the consumer groups argued that they had a right to be involved in the litigation because if Act 120 were held to be unconstitutional, it would “injure their organizational missions, their advocacy efforts, and the personal interests of their members.” In addition, they asserted that the state’s financial and human resources were insufficient to defend the law.

In response, the court cited a Sixth Circuit decision holding that, according to the district court’s summary, “a public interest group does not have a separate interest sufficient to intervene in a challenge to the constitutionality of an enacted statute because, in such circumstances, the public’s interest is entrusted to the government.” Finding that while VPIRG and CFS had shown that they had significant interests in the lawsuit, the court said that they had not proved they were necessary parties to the litigation. It also found that the state’s advocacy of the law was adequate because the state’s representatives had assured the court that Vermont would “vigorously defend Act 120” and had sufficient financial resources to do so.

Despite the denial of their intervention, VPIRG and CFS were granted the rights to file memoranda as amicus curiae without seeking further permission from the court. “We’re very pleased to be granted the opportunity to help defend the GMO labeling law from attack by corporate interests,” said Paul Burns, executive director of VPIRG, in an October 8, 2014, press release. Additional information on the lawsuit appears in Issue 526 of this Update, and details about the law’s passage appear in Issue 521 of this Update.