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India for Safe Food urges FSSAI to take action against illegal GM foods
Thursday, 09 August, 2018, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Our Bureau, New Delhi
A delegation of citizens representing India For Safe Food (IFSF) turned up at the FDA Bhawan (FSSAI office) in New Delhi to press the country’s apex food safety regulator to initiate concrete action against illegal genetically-modified (GM) foods flooding into the Indian markets, as confirmed recently by the findings of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).

In a statement, it said, “The response of the FSSAI does not satisfy us. It is not enough that they say that they are in the process of formulating regulations with regard to GM foods. They have said this for years now. What about the interim, when GM is being consumed by unaware citizens unknowingly, and when the industry is using loopholes to undertake unlawful sales?”

IFSF demanded that all GM foods, which are unpermitted and illegal in their presence in our markets, be removed by FSSAI immediately, and that punitive action be initiated against the violators so that it also becomes a deterrent for others.

The delegation met with Pawan Kumar Agarwal, chief executive officer, FSSAI, with a memorandum and a basket of the illegal GM foods, accompanied by a message that read, “No poison in our food.”

“However, he did not commit to anything concrete in terms of acting on illegal unapproved hazardous GM foods. He said that he will not act on a private organisation’s findings. But then, he did not say that FSSAI will take up the testing itself, verify and act either,” it added.

“In fact, we are aghast that he asserted that there are no adverse health impacts from GM foods, ignoring the vast body of scientific evidence that already exists,” the delegation stated.

Not only that, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) itself has said in its guidelines for determining the safety of GM food that there is a possibility of introducing unintended changes, along with intended changes, which may, in turn, have an impact on the nutritional status or health of the consumer,” said Ajay Etikala, a young resident of Delhi who works to promote awareness about safe food amongst urban consumers.

He added, “We will continue to put pressure on FSSAI until they act in the interest of citizens.”

Laboratory tests conducted by CSE on food products samples from Delhi, Punjab and Gujarat found that one-third of the samples tested were positive for GM even though GM foods are illegal in India.
Eighty per cent of the 21 foods that tested GM-positive were imported, while the rest were manufactured in India. This means that a vast majority of illegal GM foods are making their way into India by way of stealthy imports.

Of these, 13 brands did not mention the use of GM ingredients anywhere on their labels, while three were mislabelled, claiming they were GM-free.

GM-positive imported food products were based on, or used soy, cotton seed, corn and rapeseed. Positive samples manufactured domestically were made from cottonseed.

Jaya Iyer of Khana, a consumer awareness group working on food justice issues, said, “A consumer’s right to know what he/she is consuming, right to safe food and right to informed choices are all being violated by the inaction of FSSAI.”

“It is very shocking that FSSAI is not putting out an order instructing all such foods to be removed from the shop shelves, distribution centres and storehouses. There are instances in the past when they have indeed acted responsibly and got their enforcement wings to remove unapproved foods. Why will they not do it now,” she stated.

“In fact, all foods that are suspected-to-be-GM, including corn, canola, soy, cottonseed, squash and papaya (based on the country of origin being GM-cultivating) should be allowed to be sold only if an undertaking, based on lab testing, is given by the importer that they are GM-free,” said Dharmendra Kumar of Janpahal, another consumer awareness group which also works with street vendors.

“In fact, the foreign trade regulatory regime requires this. If this is not done, we will have to assume that the regulators are on the side of the food industry, are willing to jeopardise consumer health and are ready to work against their very core mandate,” he added.

Amar Singh Azad, director, Environmental Health Action Group, Kheti Virasat Mission, public and child health expert, said, “Consumers have every reason to worry about such GM foods. The genetic engineering process, the individual genes used as well as the chemicals that are used in conjunction with GM crops are all factors in making these foods hazardous for human consumption.”

“GM foods can potentially result in infertility, immune system disorders, damage to vital organs like liver, kidney, pancreas, lungs, brain etc., allergies, gastro-intestinal problems, adverse effects on the development and growth of an organism, and even cancerous growth, as per various studies available,” he added.

“There is evidence of correlation between consumption of GM crops or consumption of animals fed with GM crops to the incidence of chronic diseases like organ diseases, (thyroid and liver) cancers and neurological diseases from the United States,” Azad said.

“There is scientific evidence on alterations in the nutritional composition of a GM food. There is absolutely no reason or need for India to be allowing such GM foods to be consumed here. The government should actively ensure that GM foods do not enter our food chain,” he added.

“FSSAI is expected to maintain the highest standards of safety for consumers. A day after the findings of CSE were made public, thousands of tweets demanded more concrete action from FSSAI,” said Rajinder Chaudhary of Kudrati Kheti Abhiyan.

“Later, the Coalition for a GM-Free India sent a letter to FSSAI, demanding effective action. The FSSAI has not reacted positively so far. We are very disappointed about what we heard from the CEO today, and this does not improve the credibility of the regulatory agency,” he added.

“The minister for health and family welfare, Government of India, should initiate investigation into the procedural lapses that led to such large-scale flooding of GM foods into our market and take action on the regulators who were not discharging their duties,” Chaudhary said.

The delegation of IFSF, while it presented its demands memorandum to the FSSAI, was supported on social media by a Twitter action from citizens all over India, demanding that FSSAI take up concrete action of removal of GM foods from the market, and penalise violators.
 
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