Center for Food Safety Moves for Summary Judgment in Federal GMO Labeling Case

The Center for Food Safety filed a motion for summary judgment last week in its lawsuit that challenges new federal labeling laws for genetically modified foods. 

The lawsuit, filed in July 2020 by the Center and other food advocacy groups, argues that the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard, which took effect in 2019, is unlawful.

Under the new rules, the plaintiffs argue, the majority of genetically modified foods will go unlabeled; tens of millions of Americans will be discriminated against by the allowance of quick response code disclosures, labeling terminology is limited to “bioengineered,” as opposed to the widely known terms “genetically modified organism” and “genetically engineered,” and state laws pertaining to the labeling of GE foods and seeds will be invalidated, plaintiffs state in court documents. 

‘“Consumers have fought for decades for their right to know what’s in their food and how it’s produced,’” Meredith Stevenson, Center for Food Safety attorney and counsel for the case, said in a CFA press release Monday. ‘“But USDA instead used its authority to label GE foods by obscuring this information behind QR codes and unfamiliar terminology and omitting the majority of GE foods. Fortunately, the law is the consumers’ side.’”

Plaintiffs argue that the Disclosure Standard violates the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Act, the Administrative Procedure Act and the Constitution. The Disclosure Act was enacted by Congress in 2016 to create a national GE food disclosure standard, preserving the public’s right to know what is in their food and how it is produced, and the USDA was charged with writing and implementing the rules, the lawsuit states. 

“USDA’s final rule ignores virtually all the Disclosure Act’s statutory provisions designed to ensure disclosure of all GE foods for all Americans. Instead, USDA’s Disclosure Standard strips away the hard-fought labeling requirements of States—requirements Congress sought to encompass—replacing them with inaccessible digital disclosures, unfamiliar terminology, and an extra-statutory definition of ‘bioengineered food.’ USDA’s flawed rationales for doing so violate the plain language of the Disclosure Act and are arbitrary and capricious under the APA,” court documents state.

In addition, the lawsuit claims the Disclosure Standard violates regulated entities’ First Amendment rights to provide disclosure to consumers, violates states’ Tenth Amendment rights by overbroadly prohibiting state laws related to GE seed labeling and violates the Fifth Amendment by using vague and contradictory language, allowing for arbitrary enforcement. 

“Left standing, the Disclosure Standard will result not only in de facto concealment of GE disclosures, but also a dangerous precedent for truthful and non-misleading commercial speech and for Congress’s power to commandeer state governments,” plaintiffs argue. “Accordingly, this Court should set aside the arbitrary and unconstitutional Disclosure Standard and sever and declare invalid constitutionally infirm provisions of the Disclosure Act.”

Plaintiffs seek to declare the Disclosure Standard invalid, return the issue to the USDA with orders to fix the unlawful portions and to sever unconstitutional provisions from the Disclosure Act.