That’s according to Pawan Kumar Agarwal, chief executive of the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India, which is finalising guidelines on rules governing the labelling of genetically modified ingredients.
“Genetically modified items are being used in a lot of processed foods. Consumers have the right to know which products may have GM items,” he said.
A scientific panel has already begun work on deciding how these will be labelled, he added.
The FSSAI is responsible for regulating GM foods, though another body, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee, has the final say in signing off on its decisions, according to the Food safety and Standards Act, 2006. The Environment Ministry, meanwhile, is able to sign off on domestic transgenic crops.
Ministers had wanted the regulator to take overall responsibility for GM foods, though it has declined for the time being. The authority insists that GMOs should only come under its purview once both imports and local agricultural production are permitted.
“[At that point] all GM foods would be subject to the same standards that apply to regular food,” Agarwal told DNA.
Processed food businesses are not currently required to declare the presence of GM ingredients, which are now imported into India in considerable quantities.
In light of this, the GEAC expressed concern to ministers earlier this year over the absence of regulations governing GMOs in processed foods.
Domestically, a moratorium has been in place concerning the cultivation of GM food crops, though transgenic mustard was given the go-ahead last month, pending ministerial approval. Bt aubergine also received approval several years ago, though its introduction remains unlikely following sweeping protests.
Some farmer groups have been strongly opposing the introduction of GM technology into Indian fields in the belief that such a move would lead to the widespread industrialisation of food production and compromise food security.
Though the FSSAI says it is close to completing regulatory guidelines for GM labelling, it has acknowledged complexity of doing so.
In a status report it provided to India’s Supreme Court earlier this year, it warned: “Any labelling regime... will have practical implications on trade as it will necessitate implementation of large-scale threshold testing regimes and traceability protocols with back up documentation, which would cause significant escalation of costs.”
Elsewhere, the regulator is on course to launch a food safety index for India, under which each state will be judged on its enforcement of food laws and consumer awareness of related issues.
FSSAI chief executive Agarwal said it would help officials to gauge the resources available and the progress being made across the country. The index will be particularly useful in assessing “gaps” in inspection protocols, and in generating new systems for inspectors.
More from South Asia…
Pakistan officials to crack down on online sales from home kitchens
Food officials in Punjab have finally drawn up rules to govern the safety of “home-cooked food” sold online and through social media.
According to media reports, the practice has so far been unregulated, even though it has become big business in Pakistan’s most populous province. Increasing numbers of consumers have voiced concerns over the hygiene of such delivered foods.
It involves the sale of food items over social media sites including Instagram, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, often by operators without proper licences. The sites are used to advertise attractive-looking dishes to attract customers.
Having directed his team to form a policy to bring online food suppliers under the law, Punjab Food Authority director-general Noorul Amin Mengal has published guidelines requiring operators to be licensed, to adopt food labels and provide medical certificates for food handers.
The guidelines state that labels should include ingredients, manufacturing and expiry date, food additive codes, net weights, storage instructions and the address of the processor.
As most complaints received by the PFA related to packaging materials, the authority has also made it mandatory for these home kitchens to use food-grade materials.
The authority will begin to take action against violators after a grace period that will last until July 5.