Vermont Asks Court To Compel Food Industry To Release GMO Safety Data

Apr 20, 2016

A key player in the U.S. food industry has asked a federal court to overturn Vermont’s first-in-the-nation GMO labeling law. And lawyers for Vermont are now using that lawsuit to try to gain access to internal studies on GMOs done by Monsanto, DuPont and other corporations.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association represents the biggest players in the food industry. And it didn’t take long for the trade association to challenge the constitutionality of Vermont’s GMP labeling law, which passed in 2014, in federal court.

Since then, GMA has begun making its case to a federal judge.

“They’ve been making arguments saying there’s no scientific basis for requiring this type of label,” says Kyle Landis-Marinello, an assistant attorney general assigned to represent Vermont in the case. “And part of the normal legal process when you have this kind of litigation is we get to explore whether they can back that up or not.”

Landis-Marinello says the state is now seeking internal documents that might undermine the food industry’s thesis. And earlier this month, the State of Vermont asked a judge to force Monsanto, Dow, DuPont and other companies to produce any internal studies or research related to the health or environmental effects of genetically engineered foods.

“In response to our document requests, the companies have raised a number of objections,” Landis-Marinello says, but none of them have actually said, ‘We don’t have these documents.’”

"The companies have raised a number of objections, but none of them have actually said, 'We don't have these documents.'' — Kyle Landis-Marinello, assistant attorney general representing Vermont

Landis-Marinello says the state also wants studies related to the effects of the pesticides and herbicides used to treat GMOs.

“We don’t know that the documents are there, but they haven’t told us they’re not, and so we’re going to continue pursuing these and try to obtain the documents, if they have them,” he says.

None of the five companies targeted by the state’s filings would discuss the matter on tape. Spokespeople at several of the companies say they’re reviewing the motions.

Keith Matthews is a lawyer at Washington, D.C., law firm, called Sidley Austin, that specializes in chemicals regulation and other environmental issues. He says the research needed to land a product that contains GMOs on store shelves is among the most rigorous in all of regulated commerce.

"All of these genetically-engineered crops, before they're allowed on the market, go through a very stringent regulatory review process that involves USDA, FDA and EPA." — Keith Matthews, former EPA director

“All of these genetically-engineered crops, before they’re allowed on the market, go through a very stringent regulatory review process that involves USDA, FDA and EPA,” he says.

Matthews, a former director at the Environmental Protection Agency, says all of the research needed to secure federal regulatory approval is already available for public review. And he says it’s exceedingly unlikely that the firms in question have kept secret studies indicating the products pose harm, since federal law expressly prohibits that practice.

“If there is information, data, scientific study that shows that there may be adverse effects that are not reflected in studies submitted to the agency, the last thing that they’d want is to not submit that to EPA, because that could subject them to various significant penalties,” Matthews says.

The State of Vermont has also filed motions targeting Kellogg and ConAgra, seeking customer survey research they’ve done on the topic of GMOs. Specifically, the state wants surveys that try to determine whether customers are aware that some products labeled as being “natural” might contain genetically engineered ingredients.