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6-Regulation: Indian Government goes for case-by-case decision onGE food imports

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                                  PART I
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TITLE:  Govt Flashes Green Signal For Case-by-case GM Food Imports
SOURCE: The Financial Express, India, by Ashok B Sharma
DATE:   Feb 17, 2003

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Govt Flashes Green Signal For Case-by-case GM Food Imports

New Delhi, February 16: The government, bowing to the pressures from
foreign aid agencies, has decided to review its strategy and allow
imports of genetically modified (GM) foods on case-by-case basis.

An inter-ministerial meeting is convened by the new chairperson of the
Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), Sushma Choudhary on
February 26 with a view to fix the responsibility for monitoring such
imports by concerned government agencies, departments and ministries.
Representatives from Union ministries of environment, agriculture,
health, industries and commerce and from the department of biotechnology
are slated to attend the meeting convened on February 26.

A sources in the Union environment ministry said, "Many foreign aid
agencies are aggrieved at the decision taken earlier by the GEAC
regarding imports of GM food for humanitarian aid. They have urged the
GEAC to suggest to the government for a change in the policy."

Ms Choudhary since her assumption of the office as chairperson of the
GEAC last month, has already begun the exercise of undoing what her
immediate predecessor, AM Gokhale had done. Mr Gokhale when he was the
GEAC chairman had strongly turned down the request of the Catholic Relief
Services (CRS) and CARE-India to allow them to import GM corn-soya blend
from US for distribution amongst school children and the poor. In July,
2002, CARE-India intended to import 15,000 tonne of GM soya-corn blend
while the CRS intended to import about 8,000 tonne. Pending, the decision
of the GEAC, both the CRS and CARE-India booked a consignment of 1,000 tonne.

But this consignment could not land at the Indian shore as the GEAC
finally rejected the plea for such imports in November, 2002.

Being aggrieved at the GEAC's decision, the CARE-India and the CRS
knocked the doors of the one-man Appellate Authority constituted under
GMO Rules, headed by the former Union environment secretary, Vishanath
Anand. The Appellate Authority fixed the date for hearing on February 11.
But before the actual hearing could take place both the CARE-India and
the CRS withdrew their petitions.

The full bench of the GEAC at that time was apprehensive that the said
food consignment from US might contain traces of the hazardous Starlink
Corn, which is not yet approved for human consumption by the USFDA. When
the GEAC took its final decision already there were reports of traces of
Starlink Corn slipping into US consignments to Japan, South Korea and
Australia. The GEAC also asked the CARE-India and the CRS to get the
consignments certified from the exporters that it does not contain any
traces of Starlink Corn or any hazardous GM products, which the exporters
failed to oblige.

Majority of the members of the GEAC were also of the view that India
should not allow imports of those GM products which are not yet evaluated
in the country or approved by the GEAC. Imports for research may be an

                                  PART II
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TITLE:  Government searches for GM food policy
SOURCE: The Times of India, by Chandrika Mago
DATE:   Feb 16, 2003

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Government searches for GM food policy

NEW DELHI: The Environment Ministry, now in search of a policy on
genetically-modified food, is tentatively scheduling its first inter-
ministerial consultations for this on February 26.

This comes after the government's genetic engineering approval committee
(GEAC) deferred a decision on permitting commercial cultivation of
transgenic mustard and then rejected import of corn-soya blend coming in
as food aid because it was suspected to contain GM corn.

Before any more applications on GM food come in again, officials would
like a clear mandate. What is the government's policy on GM food? Even if
it is a case-by-case policy, what are the issues which need to be looked
at each time, and what are the mechanisms which need to be set in place?

Who is supposed to do what, particularly since the GEAC or the ministry
servicing it, environment, certainly don't have the expertise or the
manpower to deal with checking, verifying, certifying, monitoring health
impacts, labelling, even analysing the impact on trade and other
international agreements.

Among the ministries on the list of invitees are agriculture,
biotechnology, health, industry and commerce, food processing and
external affairs. Also expected to attend these initial consultations are
representatives of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and the
Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR).

Groups like the European Union, say officials, have taken time out to
develop their policies and evolve a system of labelling to distinguish GM
food from other food. ``Why should we rush in?'' asks one offficial. Even
approving a single consignment of food aid, or a crop like mustard which
is wholly edible, would be viewed as a green signal for GM food and set a
precedent of sorts.

Why go in unless you are sure? argues one official. The ICMR, in
particular, has been wary of GM food, concerned that most studies so far
seem limited to initial food safety evaluation and allergenicity tests.
There is, it seems, very little data on health monitoring after GM food
has been introduced.

Aside from this, the ministry is also hoping to make the decision-making
process more transparent to educate people and meet the demand of
activists that data on GM crops or food be made public. It's just at a
thinking stage right now, with officials wondering how to go about this
and what kind of data to make available on the web, for instance.

Perhaps something, it is said, which looks at basic results and
techniques and could be readily understood. This, too, may come up during
the ministerial consultations.