On New Year’s day, India joined a select band of countries where food containing genetically modified (GM) content must be labelled as such. But it has done so without any preparation. The labelling of foods with GM ingredients has been a long-held demand of consumer groups, but the way it has been done in India has left them disappointed.
The Legal Metrology (Packaged Commodities) Rules, 2011, which came into effect on January 1, say “every package containing the genetically modified food shall bear at the top of its principal display panel the letters ‘GM’.”
Consumer rights activist Bejon Misra said of the move: “It is a good step, but it is being done without any preparation at all. We don’t know how this rule will be implemented or how it will be applied to products with GM content that are being imported or how the violators be prosecuted.”
Moreover, merely printing the word GM on labels is not going to serve any purpose.
“People may confuse it as an acronym for ‘gram’. The label should explicitly say ‘this product contains genetically modified ingredients’,” he said.
The Noida-based Consumer Coordination Council has issued a memorandum to the consumer affairs ministry stating that the one-line rule will not serve any purpose until a statutory threshold of the presence of GM ingredients is fixed and there is clarity about the roles and responsibilities of implementation agencies.
“India also does not have any labs to test GM ingredients in processed food,” Shivani Shah of the charity Greenpeace pointed out.
Generally, the permissible threshold is based on what amounts can be scientifically traced.
“Given that it is scientifically possible to ensure traceability up to 0.01 per cent, India should set traceability at this level for any adventitious GMOs that may enter during field trials, transportation, packaging or processing. Any amount of GMOs beyond this need to be labelled as containing GMOs”, the council suggested.