Now, consumers can make ‘informed choice’ on buying packaged food products

Consumers in India can now make “informed choice” on whether they want to buy packaged food products that are genetically modified or contain genetically modified ingredients.

The Ministry of Consumer Affairs, in an extraordinary gazette notification, has made an amendment to make labelling of every package containing genetically modified food mandatory from January 1, 2013.

The move will impact the imported GM foods that are flooding the markets.

The notification published on June 5, 2012 says: “Every package containing the genetically modified food shall bear at the top of its principal display panel the words ‘GM.’”

Awareness

With a moratorium on Bt Brinjal, India does not produce any GM food. However, it is suspected that GM foods are imported in several forms.

The Rules leave it to the importer to declare that the food commodity entering the country contains GM products or have GM ingredients and several officials confirm that rarely is any voluntary declaration made by the exporter or importer.

Also, even if the declaration was made at the borders, there are no credible labs to test for genetically modified ingredients in a food product.

Consumer Affairs Secretary Rajeev Agrawal told The Hindu that the government’s intention in introducing GM labelling was to “educate consumers and make them aware of GM products, much in the manner that there is labelling to distinguish non-vegetarian food from vegetarian.”

Overwhelming response

The move came after the Parliamentary Committee on Cultivation of GM Food Crops, Prospect and Effects recommended that GM foods be labelled. The Ministry took the views of the State government and received an overwhelming response in favour of the move, Ministry sources said.

“While this will go to some extent in letting us make informed choices when it comes to imported food products with GM ingredients and also in all cases where cotton seed oil is being used from within India [most of which is Bt cotton seed oil], this is no solution to food produced within the country as a lot of consumption is in non-packaged form. Also, how the Ministry will enforce this is to be seen,” says Kavitha Kuruganti of the Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture.

Global discussion

While the government maintains its intention is limited to creating consumer awareness, the question of labelling GM foods has been under global discussion for almost two decades with activists pressing for labelling and producers opposing it.

The notification is silent on whether the amendment is applicable to primary GM foods or processed foods.

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