GM labelling law in India soon (14/12/2005)


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GM foods labelling law in India soon
Food Ingredients First, Dec 9 2005

Currently, neither imported food products nor domestically produced ones are subject to labelling requirement from the point of view of genetic modification.

09/12/05 Consumers will soon be able to know if they are being offered genetically modified (GM) food or ingredients and be able to make a choice, whether or not to buy/eat such food. There will soon be a law for labelling of GM foods.

The amendment to Prevention of Food Adulteration Rules 1955 has been processed, according to the Department of Consumer Affairs. An expert committee on GM food and ingredients constituted under the chairmanship of the Director-General of Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) had made recommendations for mandatory labelling of GM foods.

After considering ICMR's recommendations, the Central Committee for Food Standards, a statutory committee under the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954, has recommended that labelling of all GM foods in the country be made mandatory.

With opening up of borders following removal of quantitative restrictions on imports since 2001 and gradual reduction of import tariffs, Indian market has witnessed a large influx of food and ingredients from abroad.

Two major food commodities that are known to be transgenic in a number of exporting countries are corn (maize) and soyabean. GM cotton, a non-food crop, too is produced in largely quantities in the US, China etc. India is a large importer of soyabean oil (mostly, crushed out GM soyabean).

Soyaoil imports in 2005 were an estimated 20 lakh tonnes. India is also an importer of maize from time to time. The poultry and animal feed lobby has been working hard to crack the Indian market for imported corn open, but without big success in recent years.

In addition, after the Union Government allowed commercialisation of transgenic cotton (Bt cotton since 2002), the country produces GM-cottonseed from which is produced cottonseed oil and cottonseed cake/extraction (animal feed). But neither cotton nor the derivative products are marketed as transgenic variety.

Currently, neither imported food products nor domestically produced ones are subject to labelling requirement from the point of view of genetic modification. The US, which is the largest producer of GM crops (such as soyabean, corn and cotton), does not follow labelling. In other words, both GM and non-GM crops can get mixed, something that does not infringe any US law.

In Europe, of course, the situation is different. Laws relating [to] entry of GMOs is strict. Even vegetable oils are covered.

Almost the entire quantity of soyabean oil imported into India is crushed out of GM-soyabean at the origin (usually, Argentina and Brazil). Under extant Indian law, import of GMOs is subject to a prior licence to be issued by the Government. But no such licence is insisted upon for imported soyabean oil and the authorities turn a blind eye.

Interestingly, India has been importing large quantities of cotton (a non-food produce) in recent years, a substantial part of it GM variety.

However, import clearances have been smooth and officials responsible for enforcing the law on import of GMOs have been indifferent to the issue of GMO imports and licensing requirement.

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