Written by: Amie Alexander, JD/MPS Candidate, William H. Bowen School of Law

The Center for Food Safety (CFS) and the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) filed suit against the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California on August 1, 2018. Plaintiffs allege that USDA has failed to comply with the GE Labeling Act. You can read the case in its entirety here.

About the GE Labeling Act

Prior to July 2016, no federal labeling requirements for GE products existed in the United States. GE Labeling was and remains a controversial issue of agricultural policy. As states began to consider and pass their own GE labeling laws, questions arose regarding how to deal with inconsistent labeling requirements from state to state in the marketplace. Connecticut and Maine passed GE labeling laws in 2013 with effective dates dependent on the passage of similar laws in other states. Vermont became the first state to pass mandatory GE labeling in 2014, scheduled to go into effect in 2016. Congress passed the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard (GE Labeling Act) in July 2016, which preempted state laws immediately.

The GE Labeling Act mandates that USDA shall “establish a national mandatory bioengineered food disclosure standard with respect to any bioengineered food and any food that may be bioengineered; and establish such requirements and procedures as the Secretary determines necessary to carry out the standard.” (See 7 U.S.C. § 1639b(a)). The statutory deadline for the completion of the final regulations implementing the Act to establish national disclosure standards was July 29, 2018, or two years after the enactment of the statute.

Plaintiffs’ Claims Against USDA

Plaintiffs brings suit under the Administrative Procedure Act, which provides the right to judicial review for individuals harmed by an agency’s action or failure to act (See 5 U.S.C. § 702).

Plaintiffs claims that USDA failed to finish or publicly release the study or hold a public comment period by July 29, 2017. The USDA did not issue draft rules by the end of 2017. Instead, USDA issued proposed draft rules on May 4, 2018. Thus, plaintiffs argue that USDA has failed to implement a national mandatory GE food disclosure standard by the July 29, 2018 deadline.

Plaintiffs allege this failure to act violates the APA and the GE Labeling Act by failing to establish national standards. Plaintiffs ask the court to enter an order declaring USDA has violated the APA and GE Labeling Act, to order USDA to finalize and issue the regulations implementing the statute “as soon as reasonably practicable” according to a Court-ordered timeline, to retain jurisdiction to ensure compliance, and to award Plaintiffs their fees and costs.