2-14-2014 – Attorney General Bill Sorrell: “I am virtually certain that Vermont will be sued”

by Shayne Spence

Vermont will almost certainly be sued, and will almost certainly lose, if the GMO-labeling bill (H. 112) is passed as-is, without a “trigger clause”.    Attorney General Sorrell gave testimony on Friday, February 7, on the potential legal implications of passing such a law, and the added security that a trigger clause would bring.  The Senate Agriculture Committee followed the Judiciary Committee in approving H. 112 in a 4-1 vote.

The “trigger clause” is language in a bill that would require either a) a certain number of states or b) a certain total population of states pass a labeling law before the VT law would go into effect.  This ensures that if Vermont faces legal action on First Amendment grounds, there will be other states being sued as well, so Vermont can benefit from the other, likely larger, states’ legal teams.  This would also ensure that in the case of a loss, the legal fees the state would be held responsible for would be spread among other states.

Vermont has been down this road before.  In a 1996 decision, the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Vermont’s statute requiring labeling of milk containing rBST, a bovine growth hormone, was unconstitutional on First Amendment free speech grounds.  Without proving that a significant health risk existed, the state did not have a compelling interest in requiring labeling.  It is likely that we would suffer the same fate in court this time around.

Connecticut is the only other state that has passed a GMO-labeling law.  However, it’s has a trigger clause, requiring that four states pass similar laws before Connecticut’s law takes effect.  Jim Harrison of the Vermont Grocers Association (VGA) advocated for the addition of similar language in the Vermont bill, requiring that the total population of states with similar laws be above 20 million.  This would ensure that the total market share of the states requiring labeling is large enough where larger companies won’t just stop selling their products here.

It seemed to be the general agreement that having a GMO-labeling law would strengthen the Vermont brand.  Both Senator David Zuckerman (P/D), an organic farmer who would personally benefit from this legislation, and Jim Harrison of the VGA said there were niche markets in other states in which the VT products made without GMOs would see heightened sales due to labeling.

However, it is hard to believe this is possible unless other states pass similar laws.  This is a good reason why labeling non-GMOs is a better way of dealing with the issue than requiring labeling of GMO foods.  This bill is more about punishing competition than it is about educating the public.  Given that the law brings with it the risk of a lawsuit, I would hope that the Senate proceeds with caution and inserts a trigger clause so Vermont is not going out on a limb alone.

Shayne Spence is the Outreach and Development Coordinator of the Ethan Allen Institute.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Lazarus Long February 14, 2014 at 10:53 pm

Bet we like to punish the competition with our legislator friends. It is the “Vermont Way” .


Melody Reed February 16, 2014 at 3:36 am

re: “This would ensure that the total market share of the states requiring labeling is large enough where larger companies won’t just stop selling their products here.”

We don’t want stinking GMO products anyway, so if they pull their products because they don’t want to list GMO on their label, I say good riddance! People are beginning to wake up!


Shayne February 16, 2014 at 11:49 am

I would agree, Melody, but for the fact that GMO products are all that many of the working poor can afford. While we certainly need to look for a way to make these people aware that the food they are eating contains GMOs, that does not mean we should effectively make it illegal for poor households to find affordable food.


Leave a Comment

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post:

About Us

The Ethan Allen Institute is Vermont’s free-market public policy research and education organization. Founded in 1993, we are one of fifty-plus similar but independent state-level, public policy organizations around the country which exchange ideas and information through the State Policy Network.

Latest News

VT Left Wing Media Bias Unmasks Itself

July 24, 2020 By Rob Roper Dave Gram was a long time reporter for the Associated Press, is currently the host of what’s billed on WDEV as a...

Using Guns for Self Defense – 3 Recent Examples

July 24, 2020 By John McClaughry  The Heritage Foundation’s Daily Signal last week published eleven news stories about citizens using a firearm to stop a crime. Here are...

FERC ruling on solar subsidies could help Vermont ratepayers

July 21, 2020 By John McClaughry Last Thursday, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission finalized its updates to the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA), in what the majority...

The Moderate Left’s Stand for Free Speech

July 17, 2020 By David Flemming Harper’s Magazine, a long-running monthly magazine of literature, politics, culture, finance, and the arts, is hardly what you would call a ‘politically...

Trump’s Regulatory Bill of Rights

July 16, 2020 by John McClaughry “President Trump [last May] issued an executive order entitled  ‘Regulatory Relief to Support Economic Recovery.’ The executive order includes a regulatory bill...