Hawaii Attorney General Doug Chin signed onto a brief defending Vermont’s right to require labels on food containing genetically engineered ingredients.

Vermont’s law has been challenged by the Grocery Manufacturers Association and several other groups representing the food industry. They are appealing the case before the Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

Chin joined attorneys general from Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Illinois, New Hampshire and Washington in signing an amicus brief contending that the Vermont law is constitutional and legal.

Attorney General Doug Chin listens to AG's attorney Julie Shina during oral arguments at the Hawaii State Supreme Court. Mauna Kea. 27 aug 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Attorney General Doug Chin at the Hawaii Supreme Court.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“The plaintiffs’ members sell food for profit in states like Vermont and Connecticut,” the brief says. “Yet they desire to withhold certain information about the products they sell. A significant portion of Vermont’s consuming public, as reflected in the enactment of legislation by their elected representatives, wants that information. As a foremost principle of the First Amendment, speech – and particularly speech about commercial information – should be promoted, not concealed.”

The Hawaii Legislature has repeatedly considered GMO food labeling bills but hasn’t passed them. County councils on Kauai, Maui and the Big Island have separately passed bills aiming to regulate GMO farming but those have been struck down by federal courts.

In the brief, Chin and the other attorneys general argue that the label “produced with genetic engineering” is “factual and uncontroversial.”

“Because it mandates disclosing only accurate factual information, Vermont’s labeling requirement furthers, rather than obstructs, the availability and flow of commercial information,” the brief says.

The brief also emphasizes that there are “legitimate and substantial policy interests” for imposing GMO food labels, such as reducing consumer confusion and deception when some genetically modified products are labeled “natural.”

That’s in response to the plaintiffs’ contention that “consumer curiosity” is behind the desire for labels.

“Through their elected representatives, the citizens of Vermont have expressed not just a “curiosity” about genetically engineered foods; they want to have the opportunity to learn, before they purchase a food product, whether a product was produced with genetic engineering, and with that accurate, factual information, make their own decisions whether to purchase the product,” the brief says. “This is a decision, reached through the legislative process, deserving of respect by the courts.”

Read the full brief below:

Follow Civil Beat on Facebook and Twitter. You can also sign up for Civil Beat’s free daily newsletter.

About the Author