The call for mandatory labelling follows on from a previous report from The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) that noted, "The safety of these components of the genetic construct is not clearly known as they have the potential to induce toxicity, transfer to gut flora or produce unintended effects leading to changes that are relevant from toxicological/nutritional perspective.

"Specific safety issues associated with GM foods include direct or indirect consequences of new gene product or altered levels of existing gene product due to GM, possibility of gene transfer from ingested GM food and potential adverse effect like allergenicity and toxic effects."

ICMR calls for mandatory labelling of GM foods
Financial Express, September 27, 2005

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has called for mandatory labelling of genetically modified (GM) foods. It said that imported foods containing traces of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) should be tested for their safety in the labs in the country.

The report prepared under the leadership of ICMR director-general NK Ganguly has been submitted to the government. The recommendations of the report are being reviewed by the Central Committee on Food Safety (CCFS) for incorporation under the Prevention of Food Adulteration (PFA) Act and Rules.

The ICMR report focuses on issues of labelling, nutrition value, food safety and ethical values.

At present PFA Act and Rules does not have any provisions to deal with GM foods. The new Food Safety and Standards Bill, 2005 tabled in Parliament has mentioned the need for regulating GM foods.

The existing regulatory authority for transgenic products, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) has the power to regulate only transgenic crops and animals and recombinant pharma products and not GM foods. The Ganguly panel, therefore, suggested that GM foods will be regulated by GEAC.

The permissible limit of the presence of traces of GMOs in food as proposed by ICMR is higher than that proposed by the European Union. EU has fixed the permissible limit at 0.9% while ICMR has fixed it at 1%. ICMR has said that labelling of GM foods should disclose the necessary information relating to the orgin of the transgene and the processes invloved. The norms for labelling will be revised in accordance with more advanced techniques of detection becoming available.

According to ICMR, the producers and importers should submit detailed supporting documents. Only accredited labs should conduct tests to determine GMO traces in foods. Since currently, there are few labs in the country like the National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad, the Central Food Technology Research Institute, Mysore, and Lucknow's Industrial Toxicology Research Centre, capable of conducting tests on GMOs, the Ganguly panel called for upgradation of other labs.