Order restricting imports of GM items to have little impact: Experts

Topics GM crops | GM food

Trade and industry sources said the mandatory certification added another layer to the existing guidelines of the environment and agriculture ministries on importing of GM-free food products
The order on checking imports of food items with genetically modified (GM) substances could end up having little impact. The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) last week handed down an order requiring GM-free certification for importing select food items from a competent authority in the country shipping them. But many of those items are imported from non-GM sources.

Also, the import of agriculture items in non-processed and seed form for commercial sale is relatively small in India. 

Trade and industry sources said the mandatory certification added another layer to the existing guidelines of the environment and agriculture ministries on importing of GM-free food products.

The mandatory certification requirement will kick in on January 1, 2021.

“The notification does not cover processed foods. A law on this is already in place. This notification is perhaps to ensure that customs enforce the ‘no GM’ condition effectively, which they were not doing earlier,” said D N Pathak, executive director, Soybean Processors Association of India. “It does not affect us (soybean processors),” Pathak said. Soybean is one of the 24 food crops that require certification.

“India imports some amounts of soybean seeds from countries like Tanzania. And all of it is GM-free,” said B V Mehta, executive director of the Solvent Extractors Association of India (SEA), another lobby group. He said there were guidelines for seeds and non-processed food in India and the latest circular added another layer to them.

India’s import of soybean is largely in oil form, which does not fall within the purview of the latest order. Soybean, along with apples, plum, wheat, tomatoes, maize, pineapple, potatoes, rice, sugarcane, and squash, are on the list. “As far as apples from Washington (a state in the US) are concerned, we can say they are not genetically modified or do not have anything to do with GM,” said Sumit Saran, India representative of the Washington Apple Commission (WAC).

Apples were among the top 10 agriculture items imported in 2019-20.

Some traders said the order could have an impact on imports of wheat and pulses, though marginal. “As processed food items are not covered by the order, my sense is it is meant to curb the entry of GM seeds of food crops,” another industry player said.

Companies aren’t bothered by this, either. Dabur India, which holds over a 55 per cent share of the branded juice market through its brand Real, said it did not use GM fruit for any of its juices.

PepsiCo’s Tropicana, Parle Agro and ITC’s B-Natural are the other key players in the Rs 1,100 crore packaged juice market. “We have a clear mandate on not purchasing any genetically modified fruit products,” a Dabur spokesperson said.

Agriculture and techno-legal expert Vijay Sardana found flaws and discrepancies in the language of the order, which, according to him, would create confusion and legal tangles. “In the title of the order, it says, it is for ‘imported food consignments’. In the text, it says only non-GM crops are imported; in the annexe, the FSSAI mentions the term ‘crops’. Should we conclude that the FSSAI is using these terms interchangeably? Legally all these terms have different meanings. I am not sure about its intention and message.”



Business Standard is now on Telegram.
For insightful reports and views on business, markets, politics and other issues, subscribe to our official Telegram channel