Amended Complaint Challenges New USDA Genetically Modified Labeling Rules

Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint in a Northern District of California lawsuit on Friday challenging the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s labeling rules for genetically engineered seeds, which the recent rule referred to as bioengineered. 

According to a press release from the Center for Food Safety (CFS), one of the plaintiffs, the new complaint included additional claims challenging a part of the rule applying to bioengineered foods that would leave seeds which are genetically engineered unlabeled. The organization claimed that farmers and other consumers should know if the seeds are genetically engineered. Other plaintiffs include Natural Grocers, Citizens for GMO Labeling, Label GMOs, Rural Vermont, Good Earth Natural Foods, and Puget Consumers Co-op; they are all represented by lawyers for the Center for Food Safety. 

“Consumers have a right to know what’s in their food, including whether it is genetically engineered or not. That’s what this case is fundamentally about: meaningful labeling … the same goes for seeds. The decision takes away states’ rights to label seeds, while offering absolutely nothing in return,” said George Kimbrell, CFS legal director and counsel in the case, in the press release. 

The amended complaint said the rule for bioengineered food would leave a majority of genetically engineered foods unlabeled. It also purported that allowing QR Code labeling discriminates against elderly or rural consumers, who do not have access to smartphones or broadband. The plaintiffs also said text on the package would say “bioengineered,” rather than “genetically engineered” or “genetically modified” (GMO) as consumers are used to. Further,  reportedly 70 percent of genetically engineered foods were left out of the labeling standard and the law prohibited additional labeling or the use of more common terms, like GMO, on food products or seeds. 

“Retailers and shoppers have relied on the term GMO for more than a decade to identify and avoid GMO foods,” said Mark Squire, co-founder of Good Earth Natural Foods in the press release. “Banning the use of this term and replacing it with a term nobody has ever heard of is misleading and will create massive confusion in the marketplace.”

The lawsuit asked the court to declare the regulation unlawful and order the USDA to change portions of the labeling rules and set aside portions which allegedly violate the Tenth, Fifth, and First Amendments. 

The USDA, represented by the Department of Justice, filed a response to the 118-page complaint on the same day, claiming that the complaint was inadequate because it did not “set forth a short and plain statement of the claims showing that Plaintiffs are entitled to relief.” The defendants said that the plaintiffs are not entitled to any relief.