buckling under the pressure of the industry, the Sri Lankan government has indefinitely postponed its plans to impose one of the world's stringent bans on genetically modified (gm) food. The ban was initially imposed in May 2001. But it was postponed a month later due to pressure from the World Trade Organisation (wto), which wanted to give some countries more time to adjust to the restrictions (see 'Backtrack', Down To Earth , Vol 10, No 5, July 31, 2001). It was due to go into effect again from September 1, 2001. However, the government has once again retracted from doing so. "The secretary of the health ministry has issued a circular ordering against the ban's implementation until further notice. We don't know whether it will ever see the light of day," said an official of the country's health ministry.
The ban had been severely criticised by the country's business community. The traders have urged the government to wait until 2003, when the un Codex Alimentarius Commission announces an international standards regime for gm foods. "We would appreciate if consideration is given to defer the current provisional regulations banning the import of gm foods," said a spokesperson of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce. The chamber said the government should instead concentrate on regulating the advertising and labelling of gm foods. Objections about the ban were even raised by the us, which said that Sri Lanka "did not have credible scientific evidence to justify the restrictions."
The restrictions, which were recommended by a government committee, requires 21 categories of food imports to be completely free of gm ingredients. The government agreed to the committee's proposal saying the controls would give Sri Lanka time to assess any risk to human health from gm foods. At present, the country lacks the capability of testing gm food-stuff for any possible adverse health effects.
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