Government hesitant on labelling genetically modified food

Written by ASHOK B SHARMA | New Delhi, Sep 30 | Updated: Oct 1 2007, 06:31am hrs
The Union health ministry is reluctant to go ahead with its earlier proposal pertaining to a mandatory labelling of genetically modified (GM) food. It has kept in abeyance the report of the expert committee headed by Shiv Lal, the additional director-general of the National Institute of Communicable Diseases.

In March this year, the Lal panel had recommended a mandatory labelling of both processed and unprocessed GM food and food ingredients produced in the country as well as those to be imported.

A senior official of the health ministry, when asked to comment on the future of the Lal panel report, said, The labelling norms suggested by the panel are too stringent and difficult for implementation. We have not yet referred to the Central Committee of Food Standards. The health ministry had earlier proposed to amend the Prevention of Food Adulteration Rules, 1955 to include the provisions for mandatory labelling of GM food. Labelling of GM food is for giving consumers an informed choice. We had decided that all GM food irrespective of whether they are processed or unprocessed as well as the ingredients should be labelled, said Bejon Misra of the Voluntary Organisation in Interest of Consumer Education (VOICE). Misra was one of the panel members, along with other food analysts and experts.

The health ministry had set up the Lal panel in response to the provisions of the Foreign Trade Policy, 2006, which said that all imported GM products should be labelled.

It further said, 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 the Foreign Trade (Development & Regulation) Act, 1992.

Meanwhile the Union ministry of environment and forests has ensured free entry of processed GM food in the market.