The US is stepping up pressure on India to not move forward on its proposal to mandate ‘non-GM (genetically modified) origin’ and ‘GM free’ certificates for some agricultural imports from January 1, 2021. It has given a fresh submission at the World Trade Organization asking India to reconsider the measure and delay implementation so that all member countries can submit their comments on the proposed requirement.

“India’s requirements appear to apply to imports of all listed products, regardless of whether GE (genetically engineered) varieties of those products are in commercial production in the country of export. All members exporting to India may encounter additional barriers to trade for those crops listed under annex I of India’s order,” the US stated voicing concerns in its submission to the WTO committee on Sanitary & Phytosanitary (SPS) measures.

The order could also result in de facto bans on products exported by biotechnology-producing members who do not or cannot provide such certifications, it added.

“Given the potential for significant unnecessary disruptions to trade and the lack of technical rationale or justification for this measure, the US requests that India reconsider its temporary measure and delay implementation until members can submit comments,” it said.

FSSAI order

In August this year, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) published an order specifying that every consignment of 24 identified food products, which include pineapples, apples, wheat, rice, tomato, potato, maize, melon, plum, papaya, potato, egg plant, bean, among others, need to be accompanied by a non-GM-origin-cum-GM-free certificate issued by Competent National Authority of the exporting country. The order is to be effective from January 1, 2021, it said.

The US, in its submission, stated that India recently clarified that the order applies only to food crop imports intended for human consumption and not to processed products. “However, many imported raw, unprocessed products are used for both human and animal consumption and India has not explained its process for determining which imported raw, unprocessed products are within or outside the scope of the order,” it said.

A study carried out by research and advocacy body Centre for Science and Environment in 2018 found that despite the FSSAI not allowing GM food in the country, several samples of edible oils, processed and packaged food and infant food items, produced locally and imported, were found to contain GM ingredients. While 32 per cent samples tested GM-positive, a large bulk of it was imported.

Risk assessment

Washington argued that it is not aware of any risk assessment conducted by India, nor has India identified any specific food safety risk associated with the products listed in the order. India’s measure may imply that genetically engineered (GE) foods are less safe than their conventional counterparts, it complained.

“Through reports by the National Academy of Science and the WHO, among others, the international scientific and regulatory community has reached consensus that GE products available on the international market are as safe as their conventional counterparts,” it said.

India had earlier assured the WTO that the measures would come into effect only after all concerns voiced by WTO member countries are examined.