Posted by: Mahdi Ebrahimi | December 9, 2007

Sowing a bitter harvest

One outcome of the Indo-US deal on Agriculture appears to be the deregulation of the GM (genetically modified) foods sector. The Ministry of Environment and Forests has through a notification withdrawn the requirement that importers of GM foods must first take permission from the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), India’s premier regulatory body in the sector of genetic engineering.

This means that a variety of genetically engineered food products would have entered the market after September 11, 2007, when the notification came into force. The US is the major producer and exporter of processed GM foods. Such products would be primarily be those containing soybean, corn, cotton seed oil and mustard, unless they come in from China, in which case, they could include some vegetables.

The government notification is a significant departure from the standing Indian policy in this field. Until now, in view of the known health risks that are associated with GE (genetically engineered) foods, the government guidelines had required that import of GE foods could take place only after intervention by national agencies and any handling of GM foods was to be done only after these were labeled as such.

The regulatory oversight that existed prior to the government’s new notification was necessary and appropriate since it had allowed India to monitor the entry of food products produced by a new technology that is known to produce toxic and allergic compounds. The Indian regulations which made it necessary for permission to be taken from national agencies, allowed government to monitor the entry of GM products into the country. These regulations had also allowed India to check that food products rejected by other countries in Europe, Africa and Middle East were not being dumped on us.



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