Ben & Jerry’s has joined other Vermont businesses and consumer groups in defending Vermont’s new labeling requirements for genetically engineered (GE) foods—one of the first such labeling laws in the country—against a federal court challenge brought by the food industry.
Earthjustice represents the famous ice cream company, Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility (VBSR) and Consumers Union, the policy arm of Consumer Reports, in supporting Vermont’s GE labeling law, Act 120. The law requires that the manufacturers and distributors of most processed foods label products that have, or may have, GE ingredients.
According to the Vermont Legislature that passed the law, GE foods pose risks to health, safety, agriculture and the environment. For instance, GE crops are genetically engineered to withstand exposure to herbicides, which in turn has led to the increased use of herbicides such as glyphosate. Recently, the International Agency for Research on Cancer found that glyphosate is associated with higher rates of cancer. Furthermore, the FDA has not formally determined GE crops are safe for human consumption.
The food manufacturers have until July 1, 2016, the day when Act 120 takes effect, to implement the labeling changes. Then the manufacturers have a grace period until January 1, 2017 until the Vermont Attorney General begins enforcing the Act. In their brief to the court, Ben & Jerry’s and other groups state that food companies regularly re-label and that, contrary to claims by the food manufacturers that seek to stop the law from taking effect, the costs of compliance with the law are not extraordinary. The law could also set a precedent for other states to follow suit, much like the European Union, which authorized GE labeling nearly two decades ago.