Mandatory Labelling Of GM Food – Is It Really Aiding Informed Choices?

A gazette notification (D.L. 03004/99) from the Ministry of Consumer Affairs has made it compulsory for packaged food containing genetically modified products as ingredients, to carry such labels. While this move is meant to help consumers make informed choices, the efficacy of this is under unsure. Majority of food that is consumed in India is unpackaged and there is no way of knowing if there are genetically modified ingredients or not.  In the last few years, India has been one of the leading nations in the use and development of genetically modified crops. GM cotton, commercially released thus far, has been very successful and accounts for a significant percentage of cotton production. Even as high as 70% by credible estimates.

Interestingly, labelling norms for GM food in different parts of the world is varied. In EU it has been mandatory since 1997, whereas in the US they are yet to adopt stringent norms.

This aspect of labelling may seem a trivial regulatory matter but experience from other countries has shown that it can have far reaching consequences for consumer choice, the food industry, international trade and ultimately, technological choice at the farmer level. In developed countries, the costs associated cannot be bracketed as non-negligible, and it has not achieved its desired level of consumer choice. In developing nations, it has been ineffectual due to unenforceability.We hope that the efficacy of the existing testing infrastructure in the country for GM labeling is robust enough to provide a efficient reporting system. Further, we also hope that the competence to regulate all this activities is also robust enough to ensure that the consumer is well protected.

The fact the we do not see too much of food on the shelves of the retail stores with the GM lable gives us to conclude that there is no GM food that we may be unwittingly consuming. We sincerely hope that the inefficiencies of the system is not leaving the door ajar without anyone knowing.

                                                                                                                                    – Gopal