Thanks to a legal case filed by the Center for Environmental Justice (CEJ) and the engagement of several civil society actors, Sri Lanka has regulated the labeling legislations for genetically modified foods since January 2007. Following the regulation, it is now mandatory for importers and local manufacturers of GM foods to label these products. According to the law, all GM food items must now carry a prominent sticker informing that the product contains GM materials, giving the consumer the freedom of choice. Defaulters of this law have to face a six-month jail term or a Rs. 10,000 fine, or both, under the Food Act, No. 26 of 1980 .
However, following the statement of the Centre for Environmental Justice itself, the Health Officials or the Consumer Affairs Authority have failed to test and assure that the foods are GM free or labeled. This is the reason why the CEJ is carrying on a campaign to sensitize Sri Lankan citizens regarding the hazards of GMO foods. Moreover CEJ complains that the US embassy is working together with the National Science Foundation to promote GM field tests in Sri Lanka .
As it happens in other countries, the ban of GMO's is facing several problems due to the oppositions carried out by big corporations, supported by the policies of several governments and international institutions (World Bank, IMF, WTO etc.) In 2001, when Sri Lanka proposed to ban the importation of genetically modified foods, preservatives and additives, Mr. Weyland Beeghly, Agricultural Counselor for the US Embassy, speaking at a press conference, said that there is no scientific evidence to justify Sri Lanka’s ban. He said that only 4 per cent of US imports to Sri Lanka would be affected and asserted that wheat, one of the biggest imports from that country, is not genetically modified. In reaction to Beeghly’s statements, the Environmental Foundation Limited condemned the US interference on Sri Lanka's policies and in a letter addressed to George W. Bush has urged the United States not to dump untested genetically modified food in Sri Lanka .
When it comes to GMO's many decision makers, scientists and local EJO's question the lack of transparency and information accessible by the public. EFL and CEJ believe that there is no way in which the public can obtain first hand information, since many of the research studies done in the area are incomplete; research which shows the negative effects is being kept secret; and food tests are taking a long time, while there is no sufficient time between the creation of food and the release of them into the market .
Recently, grassroots farmers’ organizations in Sri Lanka have joined forces with environmental activists, scientists and other concerned citizens to mobilize against a new Seed Act which they say will undermine farmers’ rights and threaten biodiversity. The draft ‘Seed and Planting Material Act’ under consideration by the government will, campaigners say, benefit the seed industry, controlled by big transnational corporations, at the expense of the country’s small-scale farmers who are the mainstay of the rural economy.
Grassroots organizations remark that the dominant legislation today relating to seed violates democratic processes.
Sarath Fernando, adviser and founding member of MONLAR (the Movement for National Land and Agricultural Reform) denounces that ‘An arsenal of legal instruments is steadily being invented and imposed that criminalize age-old farmers’ seed breeding, seed saving and seed sharing. And this arsenal is being shaped by the handful of corporations who first introduced toxic chemicals into agriculture, and are now controlling the seed through genetic engineering and patents.’ .