New Delhi, INDIA, Sunday, March 9, 2003 --CropChoice news-- Times News
Network: At the end of a marathon four-hour
meeting, the genetic engineering approval committee
(GEAC) on Thursday rejected the US case for permitting
import of corn-soya blend suspected to contain genetically-modified
corn and meant for government aid schemes.
"They were unable to satisfy our queries,'' said
one official. GEAC wanted a certificate from the US
and the aid agencies involved, CARE and Catholic Relief
Services, that each consignment of corn-soya blend brought
in as food aid would not contain StarLink, a variety
of corn banned for human consumption.
The thrust of the US argument was that food is evaluated
for safety in the US and Americans consume the same
varieties but certification is against the country's
policy of not differentiating between GM and non-GM
In the absence of a certificate, ruled the inter-ministerial
GEAC, it saw no reason to review its November decision
to refuse import of corn-soya blend which might contain
obsolete or banned varieties of GM corn. CARE and CRS
had initially applied for permission to import a total
of 23,000 metric tonnes of corn-soya blend.
On Thursday, for the second time, ``serious apprehensions''
were voiced, particularly since StarLink corn is supposed
to have surfaced in a recent shipment from the US to
Japan. The Indian Council of Medical Research representative
warned about long-term exposure to corn-soya blend containing
GM corn, particularly since food aid is meant for people
already vulnerable. ICMR also cautioned that there was
no mechanism for post-aid disbursement surveillance.
Nobody, quite simply, would know what really happens.
But given the keenness with which this case has been
pursued at the official and political level, GEAC heard
USAID, CARE and CRS officials for about an hour and
a half. A power-point presentation led them through
the US process for approval of GM crops, the varieties
approved for human or animal consumption, the results
of food safety evaluations, the names of beneficiary
organizations and arrangements for monitoring health
impacts,both in the US and under the Integrated Child
Through it all, three problem points remained. One,
the US does not believe in segregation or in differentiating
between GM and non-GM crops so there is no question
of certification - a policy which has also led to political
duels between the US and countries in Europe and Africa.
Two, it is understood, the US does not voluntarily
disclose whether a food aid consignment contains GM
ingredients or not. Indian rules, however, do demand
that the importing agency and the exporting country
declare this. Three, despite assurances that food aid
consignments so far have tested negative for StarLink
and that the probability is minimal, officials could
not deny the possibility of obsolete varieties of corn
creeping into a consignment undetected. There is a basic
threshold level for detection.
StarLink registration, it is said, was withdrawn voluntarily
in 2000. Just 0.4 per cent of the corn area was apparently
under Starlink but it created a major controversy in
the US when traces of this corn surfaced in tacos there.