Mandatory labelling in India / Farmers seek action against Monsanto (20/4/2006)

1.Frail regime, easy entry for GMOs
2.INDIA: Andhra cotton farmers seek action against Monsanto

1.Frail regime, easy entry for GMOs
Financial Express, April 17, 2006

India has planned to introduce mandatory labeling of genetically modified (GM) foods. The health ministry is in the process of finalising its draft proposals for amending relevant provisions of the Prevention of Food Adulteration (PFA) Rules, 1955.

While the health ministry is expected to finalise the draft in May, the commerce ministry in its amendments to the Foreign Trade Policy has said that all imported GM products should be labeled. If the consignment does not contain such a label and is later found to contain traces of GM material, the importer is liable for penal action under Foreign Trade (Development & Regulation) Act, 1992.

The health ministry's draft proposal is related only to GM foods and does not cover GMOs and GM materials meant for other purposes. Hence it does not fully address the concerns stated in the Cartagena Protocol about the transboundary movement of GMOs (referred as living modified organisms - LMOs).

Incidentally, no other agency in the country is devising guidelines for labeling of GMOs and GM materials. Therefore, the Foreign Trade Policy's call for mandatory labeling of GM materials will not be resolved in the narrow range provided in the proposed draft amendments to the PFA Rules.

Mandatory labeling of GM materials, irrespective of threshold limits, can be viewed as a movement in the right direction, keeping in view the grave concerns about health and environment safety. Mandatory labeling will certainly to an extent check the clandestine imports of GM materials. But the most important issue is whether the labeled GM materials would be allowed easy entry into the market.

The proposed draft amendments to the PFA rules says that labeling should also "indicate that the product has been cleared for marketing and use in the country of origin so that the verification, if needed can be taken up with that country without having to resort to testing."

Similar are the words of the Foreign Trade Policy which says: "It has been decided to allow pre-shipment test certificates from accredited international agencies in lieu of test reports."

The government has therefore exposed its incompetency in testing GM traces. In fact there are no adequate quarantine and sanitary and phytosanitary checks for imported products. It is for this reason there is a prevalence of a number of exotic pests and diseases in the country. It is a matter of shame that the government instead of setting up adequate testing facilities for these types of hazards is relying on certification from foreign agencies. Government is the custodian of public health and environment. It is not wise on its part to abdicate this responsibility.

The proposed changes in the PFA Rules have recognised the powers of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) in approving the GM materials for use and consumption. Should not the GEAC be staffed with competent persons to conduct rigorous tests on GM materials? If this is not possible, the Cartagena Protocol has given enough authority to refuse imports of GM materials, on the basis of apprehensions of hazards. The WTO rules need to reconcile with the Cartagena Protocol, which is a global treaty.

NGOs have reported cases of violation of biosafety norms in field trials of GM crops and the cultivation of Bt cotton. If this is true, then there is a possibility of contamination of our food crops. In such a case many food crops may require testing for possible GM content. Labeling for both GM and non-GM content can be an issue. Instead of strengthening the mandate of environment and health ministries, there are proposals for setting up of an independent regulator for GM products and a separate food authority.

It would be better if the mandate of these two ministries are strengthened to take care of public health and environment.

2.INDIA: Andhra cotton farmers seek action against Monsanto

NEW DELHI: The Centre has been urged by the cotton growers from Andhra Pradesh to take action against US biotech giant Monsanto, Kolli Nageshwara Rao of All India Kisan Sabha Sangh (AIKSS) said here on April 19.

Rao further clarifying said that the action was urged in the wake of investigation done by Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission (MRTPC) which finds the company guilty for charging higher prices for BT cotton seeds.

Earlier, Rao has appealed before MRTPC against Monsanto for charging exorbitant price for Bt cotton seeds, which were sold through its Indian subsidiary Mahyco-Monsanto. Monsanto holds global patent for Genetically Modified cotton seed.

However central government is not paying any attention to the dilemma faced by Bt cotton growers due to the exorbitant seed price being charged by the US based company, Rao claims.

Rao added; against the comments made by the Union Minster for Science and Technology Kapil Sibal in parliament by saying that the minister should take action rather than make statements as after the DGIR's report everything is open to all.

Monsanto charged Rs 1250 as trait value for holding the technology patent rights for Bt cotton seeds, out of Rs 1600 which is charged for 450 grams packet of its GM seeds.

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