Vermont has asked a judge to order ConAgra to hand over consumer survey data on views on GMOs as the state defends its labelling law
EXCERPT: Vermont isn’t skimping on the effort when it comes to defending its labeling law. The state this month also asked judges in other federal courts to order seed and food companies to turn over internal research on genetically modified crops. They include Monsanto and DuPont.
Vermont seeks release of ConAgra's consumer research amid a challenge to state's GMO labeling law
By Russell Hubbard, World-Herald staff writer
Omaha.com, 17 Apr 2016
Giant ConAgra Foods — a member of the Fortune 500 — is in a legal face-off with tiny Vermont — the U.S. state with the fewest people other than Wyoming.
It’s all about food labeling — the notices of genetically modified ingredients some people want put on edibles that contain them.
Vermont lawmakers in 2014 passed the first law in the country requiring such labels, meaning food manufacturers such as ConAgra would be required to plainly identify products containing ingredients that were modified by genetic engineering.
That same year, the food industry objected to the Vermont law. The Grocery Manufacturers Association, Snack Food Association, International Dairy Foods Association, and National Association of Manufacturers sued in U.S. District Court in Vermont to prevent enforcement.
That suit is ongoing. But now, as Vermont tries to beat the challenge, it wants its hands on some consumer-survey data it says ConAgra has.
The Omaha-based maker of dozens of widely known grocery brands, the court documents say, has conducted surveys that spell out consumer views on genetically modified ingredients.
Vermont this month filed papers in U.S. District Court in Omaha asking a judge to order ConAgra to hand over some of that consumer survey information as the state defends its labeling law.
Vermont isn’t skimping on the effort when it comes to defending its labeling law. The state this month also asked judges in other federal courts to order seed and food companies to turn over internal research on genetically modified crops. They include Monsanto and DuPont.
And ConAgra isn’t alone in being targeted for its consumer research by Vermont, with Kellogg also being asked to hand over survey information.
Meanwhile, Omaha-based ConAgra Foods and other major food manufacturers already have said they’ll label GMOs ahead of the Vermont law set to take effect on July 1. But the industry is fighting the law, saying it is expensive and unwieldy to make and distribute products based on state-by-state labeling laws.
This isn’t the first attempt by Vermont to get ConAgra’s internal reports. The court papers filed by Vermont in Nebraska this month say ConAgra has objected to subpoenas for the survey information and not responded to other attempts to get them.
“ConAgra has refused to produce even a limited subset of documents — namely a discrete set of survey research that would not otherwise be publicly available and that are directly relevant to whether consumers know of or are confused about the presence of genetically engineered materials in food products,” reads the motion to compel the sharing of the consumer-survey information, a motion signed by state officials, including Vermont’s governor and attorney general.
ConAgra declined to comment on the pending litigation, a spokesman said.
The topic is a contentious one. Many common ingredients such as corn and soybeans have been genetically modified to increase harvests, nutritive characteristics, and resistance to herbicides, at least according to supporters of such efforts.
Many scientists, large farmers, and food manufacturers say there is no danger from genetically modified ingredients. The federal Food and Drug Administration agrees.
But some people have an aversion. They say messing with Mother Nature’s gene pool is rife with the prospect of unintended consequences and encourages use of increasing amounts of herbicide, among other criticisms.
ConAgra has defended the use of genetically modified ingredients. It says on its website that such efforts reduce prices for corn, soybeans and sugar beets by as much as 30 percent, citing information from the Grocery Manufacturers Association.
“ConAgra Foods would be supportive of federal guidelines for a uniform approach in this area,” the company’s website says. “ConAgra Foods does not support mandatory labeling on a state-by-state basis, as this presents significant complication and costs — costs the consumer may share.”