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3-Food: Indian Government still rejects GE food aid

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TITLE:  Govt takes firm stand on GM food
SOURCE: The Times of India, by Chandrika Mago
DATE:   Mar 8, 2003

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Govt takes firm stand on GM food
NEW DELHI: A day after rejecting a US plea to allow food aid which may
contain genetically-modified ingredients, the government sent a clear signal that
it is willing, and able, to take hits to its aid programmes till a policy on
GM food emerges.
"The nation has coped with it, states have managed," said R V Ayyar,
secretary, department of women and child development, on Friday. His department
monitors the Integrated Child Development Services scheme which receives the bulk
of food aid from the US through CARE, an aid agency.
Unable to immediately reel off figures on how states have coped over the
eight months controversy has raged on corn-soya blend a fortified, nutritious
item Ayyar said the programme has "managed" and added, "How can we get into
this genetically-modified food thing unless it's been cleared?" It's a different
matter that till July 2002, nobody in government seems to have bothered
about corn-soya blend or any food aid which might contain GM ingredients.
The US embassy is still awaiting a formal response from the genetic
engineering approval committee (GEAC) on its case but its press office maintains they
consider the food safe. It has passed "stringent regulatory procedures" and
goes to a number of other countries. The Indians, however, want certificates
that food aid consignments would not contain StarLink, a variety of GM corn
banned for human consumption this is something the US is unwilling to give.
CARE has been working with state governments in eight states: Rajasthan,
Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Orissa, UP and Andhra
Pradesh. Food aid the key elements of this being corn-soya blend, refined
soyabean oil and crude degummed soya oil is estimated to have been reaching nearly
six million people, mainly children, pregnant women and young mothers.
States have stepped in with "interim measures" to fill the gap but it's hard
to say how much the ICDS programme has been impacted, says the US embassy
press office. Corn-soya blend, roughly half the aid component in dollar terms,
hasn't come in since July last year. The other two items were held up a
little but were cleared by GEAC. The overall PL-480 programme for a year is nearly
$ 100 million.
CARE and CRS had initially sought permission to import 23,000 metric tonnes
of corn-soya blend. "We are looking for a serious review of the information
submitted," said the press office.
On Thursday, USAID experts led officials from CARE and a second agency,
Catholic Relief Services, in making a "detailed" presentation and presenting a
400-page handbook containing a "volume of information" they presume the
committee might take time to peruse. A number of agencies were involved in preparing
the case the US food and drug administration, the US department of
agriculture, the US Environment Protection Agency and the department of state.
GEAC members, however, remain unconvinced about the contradictory notes in
the US argument. The chances of StarLink mixing with other varieties may be
unlikely but US officials apparently could not rule it out altogether. Traces
which escape detection can get in, proved by a recent shipment from the US to
Japan which found traces of StarLink.


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