06 August 2018 | Column | By Ashwin Bhadri
The latest study by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) claims that 32 percent of food products in the National Capital Region (NCR)- as well as in Gujarat and Punjab are tested positive for genetically modified (GM) ingredients. It is shocking to witness higher possibilities of GM products kept for sale in these well-known cities despite its prohibition.
GM foods are effectively illegal in India as per Section 22 of the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, which prohibits their manufacturing, distribution, sales, and imports into India. However, despite such regulations, CSEs findings suggest that many foods imported from countries like Canada and the United States contain genetically modified ingredients. Out of which, few falsely claim as GM-free food products.
It has been reportedly observed that FSSAI's statement went completely unnoticed and silent by the CSE on the concerns of illegalities of GMS in the food industry. According to CSE findings, 80 percent of the food products were imported ones- soy, corn, and rapeseed (canola), which is often used to make cooking oil. Cottonseed was the main element by which the domestic GM products were domestically manufactured.
A majority of imported products were found to be GM positive whereas there were no records of domestic GM products. The imported GM products included infant food for lactose-intolerant children, edible oil, and packaged food snacks. These were majorly imported from the U.S, Canada, Netherlands, Thailand and the UAE.
There are reports of goods being openly sold in the NCR markets, despite its prohibition as mentioned in the first paragraph. This has led to several complaints by NGOs at the FSSAI Registrar. The authority has failed to investigate into the matter and did not mention the imports in their recent statements.
The issue aggravated when a massive amount (65%) of positively tested GM products did not mention about the use of GM ingredients on their packets, 15 percent claimed to be GM-free, 20 percent labelled their products as those containing genetically engineered ingredients.
The regulation proposed by FSSAI claims that a food product containing GM ingredients with more than 5% by weight should have a label on the product.
Whereas, another arm of government, the Legal Metrology Department, under the Union Ministry Of Consumer Affairs, Food and Civil Supplies, say every package containing GM food shall, at the top of its principal display panel, bear the letters ‘GM’, no matter what the quantity is. This apparently says that FSSAI draft is in violation with the rules set by another arm of government.
Comparing the threshold limits set across by different countries, FSSAI doesn't address the above ambiguity at all. It rather justifies the fixed 5% threshold limit. Countries like Japan, Canada, Thailand and Indonesia prescribe a threshold limit of 5 % by weight. The GM threshold in European Union is as stringent as 0.9%, while in Brazil, New Zealand, and Australia it is up to 1 percent.
While what is visible to us is that the other countries have comparatively lower threshold level, India has still kept it at 5%. According to FSSAI, lowering the threshold level would not be cost-effective for the authorities and would require greater technological investments. But one cannot deny the fact that India is a rich country and can easily accommodate its cost for the public well-being.
With the regulations still awaiting, its high time that the authorities take the necessary action and set standard rules to curb such activities. It can either spend on the technology to adopt new techniques to regulate GM foods or have a disdainful attitude and allow GM foods on illegal standards. However, they should not be implementing the latter as it will only lead to destruction. Above all, consumer safety is the epitome of any industry and anything which can or is likely to hamper them should be rejected. Because Safety comes first.
Ashwin Bhadri, CEO, Equinox Labs