In May 2014, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin signed into law H.112 (Act 120), a mandatory GMO-labeling bill, despite well-known opposition from trans-national food corporations. When the law takes effect on July 1, 2016, it will open the pathway for other states to begin enacting their own GMO labeling laws.
Both Connecticut and Maine passed their own versions of GMO labeling laws in 2013, but they had “trigger clauses,” which meant that until surrounding states passed similar legislation, the laws couldn’t go further.
Just one month after Vermont enacted their law, four corporate trade groups filed a federal lawsuit seeking an injunction to stop its implementation. They are the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the International Dairy Foods Association, the Snack Food Association, and the National Association of Manufacturers.
An article from Vermont’s Right to Know Group states the plaintiffs (the industry trade groups) argue it is well within their First Amendment right to refuse to label their products with GMO indicators, and that the state has no power to regulate this due to interstate commerce laws. When these trade groups use broad-stroke arguments like interstate commerce laws to bolster their defense, it only distracts us from the larger issue at hand: corporations running the show, claiming personhood, and abusing their power because they’ve got the money and the means to make their voice heard over the actual people this democracy was built for.
In the last two years alone, the trade groups suing the state of Vermont have spent over $30 million lobbying Congress. According to OpenSecrets.org’s revolving door statistics, in each of the four trade groups, a majority of their lobbyists have been employed in Congress before. This is another instance in which corporations have the audacity to insist they’re people; they’re playing us.
Well, the people of Vermont have spoken up. They don’t want unlabeled foods anymore. And whether Monsanto likes it or not, this is a movement that is quickly gaining traction. The Center for Food Safety reports that in 2014 alone, 35 labeling bills have been introduced in 20 states. Unfortunately, this also includes failed ballot initiatives, such as in Washington’s Prop 522, where out of state food and chemical corporations spent $22 million to defeat a proposed GMO labeling law.
The lawsuit between the trade groups and the state of Vermont is expected to cost around $8 million dollars for which residents of the state are already privately fundraising in an attempt to cover the expense. Vermonters should not have to shoulder this kind of financial burden merely because they are trying to increase consumer awareness for food content. Without a demonstrated need for resisting GMO food labeling, this is merely another corporate money grabbing tactic.
This lawsuit is stealing money from citizens and funneling it into a justice system which has been proven to fail we the people time and time again. Why count on the ‘system’ when it’s clear it can be bought and sold to the highest bidder? What are these corporations so afraid of that they won’t spend the irrelevant amount of money it will take to label their foods? What don’t they want us to find? Why are we, in 2015, having to prove that we have a right to know what is in the things we put in our bodies? It is inexcusable that states such as Vermont are being punished for attempting to fight back against the system -- a system in remarkable decline thanks to recent Supreme Court decisions in which free speech is only determined by the size of our pocketbooks.
Oral arguments for the hearing in the U.S. District Court in Vermont began in January. Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell and his team are moving to have the case dismissed and thrown out. This case is likely to make its way to the Supreme Court regardless of the district court decision. Since it is the Supreme Court that endowed corporations with personhood and free speech rights in the first place, there is little reason to believe that Vermont and her people will receive the justice they worked for and richly deserve.
As the people of Vermont struggle for the right to know what is in the food they eat, others struggle on myriad fronts for economic, social, and environmental justice, which has become more and more elusive as corporations gain more and more rights intended for ‘We the People’. The only way to level the playing field is to pass an amendment to the Constitution that states only human beings have Constitutional rights and that money is not a protected form of political. The We the People Amendment would allow us address any number of issues and specifically GMO labeling in Vermont and other states where people want to know what is the food they eat.
Celene serves on Move to Amend’s Media and Communications Committee. She is a senior at Bennington College in Bennington, VT studying Politics & Economics with a focus on social/political movements and elections. Her primary interests include immigration politics and national elections, but she is very invested in the movement to end corporate personhood. She has previously worked with Democracy for America, Youth Policy Institute, and the Chicano Latino Youth Leadership. Find her at http://spotwriting.wordpress.com or on twitter @celenebeats.