The Center for Food Safety Pushes AMS to Finalize BE Labeling Rule; Sues Seeking to Force AMS to Act

August 10, 2018By Riëtte van Laack

As readers of this blog know, the Agricultural Marketing Service of the USDA (AMS) is mandated to implement the 2016 National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard (“NBFDS” or the “Standard”). Congress set a time line for AMS to take certain actions toward implementing the Standard.  AMS, however, has had trouble staying on schedule.  Although the Agency was required to issue the final regulation and standard for disclosure statements on bioengineered (BE) foods by July 2018, in fact it issued the proposed rule barely three months before that deadline.  It is, therefore, no surprise that AMS did not meet its statutory deadline.  And it is questionable whether AMS will be able to complete the rulemaking any time soon.  According to the latest count, it received more than 14,000 comments to the proposed NBFDS rule.

Meanwhile, the Center for Food Safety (CFS) has consistently acted to keep pressure on AMS, and move the rulemaking along. In September, 2017, CFS sued AMS for failing to release in a timely manner the results of a study on possible technical challenges to obtaining BE information through electronic or digital disclosure methods mandated by NBFDS.  Shortly after CFS filed its complaint, AMS did release the study results.

On July 3, 2018, CFS again sued the government in connection with the NBFDS. This time it sued the Office of Budget Management’s (OMB’s) for its alleged failure to produce records in response to CFS’s FOIA request.  As described in the complaint, CFS submitted a FOIA request to OMB on May 3, 2018 and as of early July, a mere two months later, had not received the requested documents.

Now, a week ago, two days after the statutory deadline, CFS (together with the Center for Environmental Health) has again sued AMS. This most recent suit alleges that AMS has unreasonably delayed the BE labeling rulemaking and has failed to meet the mandatory deadline set by Congress, in violation of the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) § 702.  In their complaint, Plaintiffs take the position that AMS’s “failure to implement a national disclosure standard is withholding information from the public, a practice that is inimical to the democratic process. U.S. consumers have already waited decades for mandatory GE labeling, and further delay of the final rule has caused still more harm to the public and the stakeholders.”

Plaintiffs ask that the Court order AMS “to finalize and issue the regulations implementing the statute as soon as reasonably practicable, according to a Court-ordered timeline.” They further ask that the Court retain jurisdiction to ensure compliance with the ordered time line.

We will be monitoring further developments.