In the court battle to have Vermont’s genetically modified organism (GMO) food labeling law (Act 120) overturned, plaintiff trade associations filed a motion for preliminary injunction on September 11, 2014, seeking to enjoin Vermont government officials from implementing the law until the “litigation has run its course.” Grocery Manufacturers Association et al. v. William H. Sorrell et al., No. 5:14-cv-00117 (D. Vt.). The GMO labeling law creates Vermont-specific labeling requirements for “genetically engineered foods” sold in the state. The plaintiffs are trade associations representing food manufacturers.

The underlying allegations of the lawsuit and basis for seeking preliminary injunctive relief are that the Vermont GMO labeling law is (1) unconstitutional—allegedly violating the First Amendment “because it is a politically motivated speech regulation that does not serve a legitimate governmental interest”—and (2) preempted by federal laws, such as the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, the Federal Meat Inspection Act, and the Poultry Products Inspection Act, which regulate food labeling and do not require GMO disclosures. 

Plaintiffs assert that food manufacturers will be irreparably harmed if the law’s implementation is not enjoined because of the considerable time and money that would be expended attempting to comply with the law by the July 1, 2016 effective date, which could not be recouped. According to plaintiffs, the law would require “product-by-product review, followed by fundamental changes in manufacturers’ supply chains (which are not adapted to segregate the products of genetically engineered plants) and their distribution chains (which are not adapted to segregate products bound for Vermont).” Plaintiffs claim that downstream changes would be required “in the form of building out Vermont-specific supply and distribution chains that do not exist.” 

The outcome of this case and whether the preliminary injunction is granted could have a considerable effect on other states’ efforts to implement or pass similar GMO food labeling requirements on an individual state-by-state basis.