ISLAMABAD: The government has decided to introduce labelling of genetically modified (GM) food to protect consumers from malpractices of producers and suppliers of bio-technology products.
According to documents, the labelling of GM food will also give choice to the consumers whether to consume GM or non-GM food.
International rules for labelling of GM food vary considerably. Some countries are in the process of discussing legislation, some have mandatory laws in place for several years and others such as Canada have opted for a voluntary regime.
Australia has taken a leading role by implementing stringent, science-based regulations and is among the first countries in the world to introduce labelling laws which are not about safety but respect the rights of consumers to make informed purchasing choices.
Labelling policies were first introduced by the European Union (EU) in 1997, but since then many other countries including all developed nations have adopted some type of labelling policy for GM food.
Different options for GM food labelling are being considered by stakeholders in Pakistan, according to a concept paper relating to ‘Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) and Food Labelling.’
Commercial release of any GM material requires approval of the National Bio-safety Committee. The commercial release depends on environmental safety testing along with food safety studies.
“The genetically modified BT cotton has been commercially released in the country and some proper and standard labelling is required to protect the growers, who are interested in growing BT cotton or otherwise,” reveals the concept paper.
Labelling was also necessary to protect the consumers from malpractices of producers and suppliers as there were evidences of mixing GM seed with non-GM seed, it said.
In the concept paper, two options for labelling GM food have been discussed, whether it should be mandatory or voluntary. Mandatory labelling will impose excessive costs on the producers of GM food, which will threaten research and commercialisation of goods. In contrast, voluntary labelling will limit producer costs and will be commercially and socially optimal.
Labelling policies are based on the assumption that the industry is unable or unwilling to identify the risks inherent in their GMO products. Therefore, the government intervenes in the market with mandatory labelling policies to ensure consumer protection from potential health and safety risks associated with consumption of GM food.
“Mandatory labelling may be a clear threat to the continued development of bio-technology products and processes. Nevertheless, in the absence of industry action, the government may be pushed by consumers and lobby groups to impose mandatory labelling to ensure firms are held accountable for product-specific uncertainties,” concludes the concept paper.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 20th, 2012.
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