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Govt bar on genetic food imports

New Delhi, Jan. 6: The government committee that approves the entry of genetically modified (GM) organisms into India has temporarily barred the import of genetically engineered foods.

The Genetic Engineering Advisory Committee has decided to disallow the import of certain GM foods until the government sets up mechanisms to “authenticate claims about the content of food derived from GM crops”, a committee member said.

The panel has refused to clear the import of a consignment of corn-soya blend from the US containing GM corn. The consignment was part of a food aid package received by two NGOs.

The official said though the consignment of corn-soya blend had been certified by its suppliers as free of the controversial StarLink corn, India needs to set up mechanisms to verify such claims. “Right now, we can neither verify nor disprove their claims,” the official said.

“Although several laboratories in India have the facilities to test samples for their genetic make-up, there is still no dedicated centre for such activity.”

StarLink corn, a genetically engineered variety of corn approved only for use as animal feed, created controversy over two years ago after it was found to have slipped into human food supplies — taco shells — in the US.

In 1998, the US Environment Protection Agency had granted a licence for the production of StarLink corn for use as animal feed. StarLink, a product of plant biotechnology giant Aventis CropScience, is genetically engineered to resist insects.

The US agency did not licence StarLink corn for human consumption because it contains “cry9c” protein that is structurally similar to proteins known to cause food allergies.

In mid-2001, the US Center for Disease Control had said it could not conclude that illnesses in people were in any way linked to allergic reactions to the cry9c protein in StarLink corn.

Japan, which imports 30 per cent of total US corn exports, does not permit StarLink corn. Japanese inspectors routinely monitor shipments of cornfeed to independently certify them as free of StarLink corn.

Committee officials said this was the first application they have received for the import of GM food, but activists claim that it has already entered India’s human food supplies.

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