GMO labeling gains traction in some states; legal showdowns likely
Vermont has become the first U.S. state mandating the labeling of genetically modified foods. (Laws passed in Connecticut and Maine only take effect if at least four other states adopt similar measures).
Proponents of these laws say consumers should have a right to know whether the products they buy have been genetically modified. Kahn says she is not against genetically modified crops, but she hopes companies will begin voluntary labeling.
Despite these and other exemptions, Vermont’s law will still impact an estimated 80 percent of food sold in the state. For example, products containing corn syrup, vegetable oil from soybeans, or sugar from sugar beets will likely have to be labeled as genetically engineered.
In anticipation of a legal challenge, legislators created a $1.5 million defense fund within the measure that allows outside groups to donate to the state.
The law is the latest example of the increased legal activity surrounding how the nation produces its food, with other notable issues being new federal country-of-origin labeling rules for meat and California’s new standards for the housing of egg-laying hens. Food producers are challenging the constitutionality of these rules.
The genetic-modification and country-of- origin regulations raise First Amendment questions of whether the government is “compelling” speech, says John Dillard, an attorney for OFW Law.
Previous court decisions, he says, have set a precedent that the government must satisfy three obligations in order to compel commercial speech: it must serve a substantial governmental interest, must directly advance that interest and must be “narrowly tailored” to do so.
In the case of health warnings for cigarettes or the listing of nutrition facts on food products, the government has met this legal standard. It remains to be seen whether the new labeling rules do so as well.
The U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause, meanwhile, can prohibit state laws that improperly burden interstate commerce. That is the basis for a legal challenge by Iowa, Nebraska and four other states seeking to void California’s requirement that outside producers bringing eggs into the state follow its housing guidelines for hens. Iowa alone ships more than 2 million cases of eggs into California, so its farmers would have to either change their production systems or halt shipments.
|Stateline Midwest ~ June 2014||1.95 MB|