Ignore US Threat, Go for GM Labelling
India's attempt to formulate mandatory labelling laws for genetically
modified (GM) foods has met with the US challenge in the WTO committee
on technical barriers to trade (TBT).
This was, however, expected as the US does not favour mandatory labelling
of GM foods. It is of the view that GM foods are "substantially equivalent"
to their non-GM counterparts and labelling of GM food would amount
to "trade restrictive measures."
This raises a very basic question. If US believes that GM foods are
substantially equivalent to their non-GM counterparts, then why it
is called "novel food" and why there is a need to patent such innovations
? A gene inserted into the crop through transgenic technology with
the help of markers and promoters will definitely make it behave in
a different manner. The developers of transgenic crops do claim that
the concerned crops are "herbicide tolerant, pest tolerant" and so
on. This is enough to prove that GM crops are not substantially equivalent
to their non-GM counterparts.
Mandatory labelling of GM foods is for giving the consumers an informed
choice. It is strange for the country like US which is the largest
democracy in the world to deny informed choice to consumers in the
name of "restrictive trade measures." US through its Bioterror Preparedness
Act wants disclosures on imported food items. US Food and Drugs Administration
(USFDA) insists on disclosures about serval ingredients used in food
item. Then why should the case be different for GM foods ?
It is the duty of national governments to protect the health of its
citizens. There are reported cases across the world about health hazards
relating to GM foods. India's proposal for mandatory labelling of
GM food is an humble attempt to give consumers an informed choice
and to protect the health of its citizens.
US has also said that India should refer its mandatory labelling norms
for GM foods to WTO also under sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures.
This demand is totally misplaced. Simply labelling of GM food does
not imply an SPS measure. Denying imports of GM food may involve an
Mandatory labelling is necessary to check imports of unapproved GM
foods. There are already reported cases of such unapproved GM foods
entering the country. Many countries, including India have their own
approval process for GM crops and foods, based on established scientific
principles. India has so far approved only Bt cotton, which means
that all other GM products entering the country are unapproved.
The commerce ministry in its changes to the Foreign Trade Policy has
rightly inserted the provision for mandatory labelling of GM products.
It has prescribed penalty for importers for importing unlabelled GM
products. However, as the health ministry could not yet put in place
the detailed guidelines, the the commerce ministry's new provision
for mandatory labelling has been kept in abeyance till March 31, 2007.
US has also questioned India's Genetic Engineering Approval Committee
(GEAC) role. It said "The scope of the 1989 Rule under the 1986 Environment
Protection Act is vague and appears to be broader than any other existing
regulatory system in the world for biotechnology products, ie covering
products such as cheese, wine, beer or other fermented products made
using enzymes produced by genetically engineered bacteria." Saying
so US hinted at the recent pact it has signed with India on farm research.
Does this mean that US want our GM approval laws be changed to suit
its purpose ? Before doing so we must know that the slack USFDA rules
have been already challenged by interest groups in the law court in
Earlier in US the hazardous GM Star Link corn, which was meant for
animal consumption, slipped into the food chain. All such contaminated
food items had to be recalled from retail stores. Recently there is
a case of US long-grain rice being contaminated with the GM variety
LLRICE-601. LLRICE-601 is not approved for human consumption. The
European Union which has appropriate laws in place has acted in time
to check imports of contaminated rice. US should know that countries
have the right to refuse imports on GM products by invoking the precautionary
principles under the Cartagena Protocol.
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