India: Initiative on labelling of GM foods facing fierce US opposition Print E-mail

 New Delhi -- Monday August 28 2006


US opposes India’s initiative on labelling of GM foods

NEW DELHI, AUG 27:  The US has raised concerns over India’s plans to formulate labelling norms for genetically modified (GM) foods at the WTO committee on technical barriers to trade.
US has urged India to rather resolve the issue through a dialogue between the regulatory specialists of both the countries. It said that both the countries believe in biotechnology as an important tool for enchancing farm growth and hinted at the recent US-India accord on agricultural research and education.
US believes that GM foods are "substantially equivalent" to their non-GM counterparts and any attempt to segregrate and label GM foods would amount to "trade restrictive measures." It has said that India should notify its decision for labelling of GM foods before the WTO panel also as a sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures since it involves "approval for biotechnology".
The new India’s Foreign Trade Policy (FTP) had made labelling mandatory for imported GM products and also prescribed penalty for imports of unlabelled GM products. Accordingly, the health ministry took up the onus of finalising the details of labelling norms. The ministry has recently set up a taskforce for the purpose.
As the detailed guidelines for labelling are yet to be finalised, the directorate-general of foreign trade has deferred its decision to insist on labelling till March 31, 2007.
Apart from labelling, is the issue of allowing its imports. As per the existing law, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) is the only authorised body to approve import, production and sale of any GM product. So far the only GM crop approved in the country for commercial use is Bt cotton.
US has questioned India’s approval process for GM products and said: "The scope of the 1989 Rules under the 1986 Environment Protection Act is vague and appears to be broader than any other existing regulatory system in the world for biotechnology products." It has questioned the rational for such broad product coverage and measures.
US has sought clarification for use of GM material in industrial production. It has asked whether the GEAC's recent approval process for import of GM soyaoil would be the same for other imported GM products and whether there would be a testing regime for imported GM products. It has also asked whether the law would be same for the domestically produced GM products like Bt cotton seed cakes used as animal feed.