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the Sri Lankan government gazetted regulations for the import of genetically modified (gm) food on August 3, 2006, making labelling and pre-import approvals mandatory. The rules will be enforced from January 1, 2007.
This is a marked change from the government's earlier plan to ban gm food completely. The ban was first enforced in April 2001, but withdrawn subsequently following protests by the private sector. The us government had also made it clear then that such a decision would trigger an inquiry by the World Trade Organization.
S Nagiah, assistant director, Food Advisory Unit of the Department of Health Services, said plenty of time has been give to the industry (till December 2006) to prepare for the new rules and get pre-import approvals and labelling system in place.
The new rules require all gm food items to carry a prominent sticker informing that the product contains gm materials, giving the consumer the freedom of choice. Any violation would be subject to a six-month-long jail term or a fine of Sri Lankan rupees 10,000 or both, under the Food Act. All gm food importers are required to apply for a permit from the Food Advisory Committee (fac) under the health ministry. The permit will be issued after verifying that products are safe.
The compulsory list, Nagiah said, will contain 21 items that were gazetted in April 2001, which includes some soya products, tomato, beat sugar and some yeasts. A spokesperson for a gm foods committee in the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce said that although the industry is not opposed to any labelling or certification of gm food as safe, they are worried that the procedure involved may be cumbersome.