India has finally notified new rules for the labelling of genetically modified (GM) foods, but the move appears to have heralded a new round of turf wars and further protests.
Last week, the Indian Ministry of Consumer Affairs (MCA) issued a new notification under the purview of metrology stating that “every package containing genetically modified food shall bear at the top of its principal display panel the words GM.”
According to the MCA, the new rule will come into force on January 1, 2013 and all food manufacturers are expected to adhere to the changes by then.
FoodNavigator-Asia contacted the ministry over why it decided to act now on GM foods after years of protests and counter-protests over the labelling of GM foods, especially since two other entities are still evaluating it, but got no response.
The labelling of GM foods in India has been a long, fraught out issue that has seen many governments come and go, never going beyond deliberating the issue and bringing it to its logical conclusion.
The food and beverage industry expected a lot from the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), as the regulation of GM foods is one of its responsibilities under the Food Safety and Standards Act of 2006.
Though the FSSAI set up a scientific panel more than a year ago to further investigate labelling issues of food products including GM foods, it has been unable to make any headway towards it.
Furthermore, the Ministry of Environment has also been looking at the issue of GM foods with the Genetically Engineered Appraisal Committee (GEAC) that is yet to submit its report on the matter to the government.
While the FSSAI refused to issue a response to the MCA’s move and the GEAC was unreachable, local reports indicate that the administration is now grappling with the other two complaining against the MCA stealing a march on them.
Not an issue of weights and measures
While this is a food safety issue nationally, a one-line rule for GM foods has been issued under the weights and measures ecosystem; perhaps the biggest criticism of the move by the MCA.
The new rule covers packaged foods and does not specify which other wet products such as GM rice or brinjal (for which there have been large number a protests) would qualify for its use. Neither does it specify a limit for GM content, crossing which the product would need to display a GM label.