ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Labelling of Genetically Modified Foods in India

The central government has made it mandatory to label all genetically modified foods sold in a packaged form, but the regulation does not specify the tolerance level or the range of products it will cover. Much depends on these factors, including the mechanisms for verifi cation, their cost and the market outcome. Without fine-tuning, the regulation will be hard to enforce, given that the labelling process is costly and complicated.

In June 2012, the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution notified mandatory labelling of all genetically modified (GM) foods sold in a packaged form – “Every package containing the genetically modified food shall bear at the top of its principal display panel the words ‘GM’”. The regulation has come into force from 1 January 2013. India had been considering introducing a labelling policy for GM foods for a couple of years. In 2006, a recommendation from the Ministry of Health proposed mandatory labelling of all GM foods. This article comments on the potential economic implications of the new regulation.

In its present form, the regulation seems incomplete for two reasons. One, it does not specify the tolerance level (the maximum threshold level above which a food would be regarded as GM). The tolerance levels in other countries range from 0.1% to 5%. Two, it does not mention the scope of the regulation. There is a wide variation possible in the range of products that are covered under a labelling regulation. In a narrow form, the regulation could be limited to products that have detectable levels of GM content, such as primary products, fresh and raw produce. The scope can be expanded to include foods that are produced from GM organisms even though the foods themselves do not contain detectable levels of transgenic protein. Examples of such products include highly processed products derived from GM ingredients such as edible oils, additives and flavours, and meat and animal products fed with GM feed.

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