Starting Tuesday, consumers will get to know whether the packaged foods they are buying contain any genetically-modified (GM) ingredient, even as the food processing industry wants more clarity.

A Gazette Notification issued by the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution mandates packaged food producers to disclose the GM ingredients, if used any, in their product.

The notification will come into effect from January 1, 2013, officials at the Food and Consumers Affairs Ministry said.

“Every package containing the genetically-modified food shall bear at top of its principal display panel the words ‘GM’,” the notification under the Legal Metrology (Packaged Commodities) (2{+n}{+d} Amendment) Rules 2012 said.

Such packaged commodity rules are applicable to some 19 products including biscuits, breads, cereals and pulses among others.

“The labelling will basically help inform the consumer about the presence of GM content in packaged food products,” said B.N. Dixit, Director, Legal Metrology, Department of Consumer Affairs.

It will help consumers make a choice as urban markets in the country are flooded with food products derived and processed in countries such as the US, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, where a majority of GM crops are cultivated.

India is still debating the regulation of GM crops and the only crop allowed to commercialise so far is Bt cotton. However, the implementation of such GM food labelling would be done by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), under the Ministry of Health.

The FSSAI is yet to announce any rules for implementing the labelling exercise.

The processed food sector wants the Government to withdraw the notification till such time the implementation rules are formed by the FSSAI.

“The Government should withdraw the regulation till the rules are formulated by FSSAI,” industry sources said.

“Though the Government’s intention to label GM products is good, there is lack of clarity on the implementation part of it. The notification is too sketchy and does not mean anything,” said Rajesh Krishnan, Sustainable Agriculture Campaigner, GreenPeace.

The labelling notification does not specify the threshold limits nor does it talk of traceability or the liability aspects.

GreenPeace and other agencies such as Consumer Coordination Council (CCC) want the Government to make the GM labelling rules more stringent.

In a letter to the Food Minister K.V. Thomas, the CCC – the apex body of Indian consumer organisations that represents some 75 outfits - said setting a minimum threshold will strengthen the labelling initiative.

Besides, the notification should also make the role of the agencies involved in monitoring and regulation, clear and ensure there is strict punitive action in case of any violation, it said.

Further, CCC wants liability measures to be explicitly mentioned in the labelling rules.

vishwanath.kulkarni@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on December 31, 2012)
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