Ben & Jerry’s joins 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. The groups submitted a brief yesterday supporting the disclosure of GE ingredients so people have more information about the health, safety and environmental impacts of the foods they consume.
"We’re joining this fight because we believe strongly that consumers have a right to know what’s in the food they eat." Jerry Greenfield, co-founder of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream, said. "I’ve been in the food industry for more than 35 years, and I can tell you that slight label changes do not raise food costs. We work hard to source the best possible ingredients, so it’s hard for me to understand why any company wouldn’t be proud to tell you about the ingredients they use."
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.
"The industry’s litigation is an affront to the will of the people of Vermont who want to make an informed choice about what they consume," Earthjustice attorney Marianne Engelman Lado added. "Having a food industry leader like Ben & Jerry’s willing to speak out like this will help draw attention to the growing number of concerns about an industry misleading customers into buying genetically engineered foods. This time the message is clear—we’re not buying it."
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.
"Vermont’s law will help consumers make more informed decisions about the food they eat and can be implemented at little cost to manufacturers," said Jean Halloran, Director of food policy initiatives at Consumers Union. "The food industry should stop fighting the public’s right to know in court and start listening to what their customers want."
"Vermonters care about where their food comes from and the simple act of labeling genetically engineered products will help bring clarity to grocery store shelves," said Daniel Barlow, the public policy manager with Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility. "Act 120 was crafted to give consumers more information about the choices they make and the law does not place an unnecessary burdens on the state's successful and growing local food movement."
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.