Competitive Exams: Current Affairs 2011: GM Labeling

GM Labeling

  • Our right to know includes the right to know what we eat. We live in a transgenic age, in which it is no longer sufficient for food labelling to list only such things as nutritional values, chemical additives, and possible allergens. Although there is no evidence that approved genetically modified food is unsafe for human consumption, people have the right to choose not to eat it for ideological, ethical, or other reasons.

  • Informed consumer choice demands that a mechanism for mandatory labelling of GM foods is put in place.

  • In India, the issue assumes significance with the possible commercial release of the country's first transgenic food crop, Bt brinjal, which has been placed under an indefinite, open-ended moratorium.

  • Although Bt cotton, approved for commercialisation in 2002, is not a food crop, it is well known that cotton oil produced from these transgenic plants is used as a cooking medium in many areas.

  • Moreover, the lack of a proper labelling regime has resulted in the import of processed foods made from genetically modified material.

  • At a time when the European Union and countries such as Australia, Japan, and China have mandatory labelling requirements of GM foods, which require food processors, retailers, and sometimes producers to display whether their products contain genetically engineered material, it is strange that India has not enforced a strict labelling regime. This despite the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare issuing rules in 2006 to include compulsory GM labelling in the Prevention of Food Adulteration Rules 1955.

  • Not surprisingly, the lobby against the mandatory labelling of GM foods is led by companies such as Monsanto. One of the world's leading transgenic seed producers, it pioneered the beneficial introduction of Bt cotton into India and awaits clearance for Bt brinjal, which it co-developed with the Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company (Mahyco). Claiming unconvincingly that mandatory labelling would put a huge burden on regulatory agencies, the lobby piously declares it has no objection to voluntary labelling, under which companies would be free to declare their products to be GM-free. Such a voluntary regime is likely to strangulate consumer choice as many companies are likely to prefer staying clear of the attendant risks and liabilities of going in for GM-free certification.

  • Leaving GM labelling to the whims and fancies of food processors, packagers, and retailers would compromise one of the basic principles behind the demand for mandatory certification offering consumers a clear-cut choice. Anything less than mandatory GM labelling is an unacceptable compromise of the public's right to know what it consumes.

Courtesy: The Hindu and Times of India