Imported Genetically Modified food appears to be circulating uncontrolled in the country without any consumer advisories on possible harm, according to an admission by the top government official before a parliamentary panel, said a report by The Asian Age.
The parliamentary panel, for now, has red-flagged introduction of GM crops in the country without evaluation of biosafety and socio-economic desirability. “There are certain GM food which we are told is coming in as a mixed form in some of the imports that is happening,” an official of the department of health research told the parliamentary panel, chaired by Congress leader Renuka Chowdhury said in a report which it recently submitted on “Genetically Modified Crops And its Impact On The Environment.”
Lack of a labelling system
The official further pointed to the absence of Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI)-mandated labelling system that could inform consumers that a particular food does have GM element so the harm should be well known. The department-related parliamentary standing on science, technology, environment and forest has strongly “recommended” to FSSAI that labelling on imported GM food must be done with “immediate” effect.
Taking note of the official’s submission that FSSAI’s scientific panel for the genetically modified organism in food has recommended mandatory labelling for designated food products which have GM ingredient of 5% or more. He also hinted at the existence of an unregulated system under which Indians may be consuming imported GM food.
No regulatory body
In the presence of an unregulated system, an official of the health department said, “Once the labelling comes into force, some of the imported items – where we are still not very clear what the elements of GM food are – is something they are still working on.” But from his own submission, before the committee, no GM food product has “really been approved so far”. Yet there are food products coming into the country, as a mixed form in some of the imports.
In its 301st report presented to the Rajya Sabha chairman last month, the committee expressed its surprise over an in-house scientific study by the department on the ill-effects of GM foods on human health. Ms Chowdhury noted the above-mentioned fact as well in the study.
The official said to the committee, “In terms of food, it will be very difficult to design a study where you tell a group of people to take only GM food and another group to not take GM food at all. Then you have to follow them for years. This type of study has not been done anywhere. It hasn’t been done in India as well,” reported the Asian Age. The committee meanwhile has put breaks in the introduction of GM crops.
It has said, “The committee strongly believes that unless the bio-safety and socio-economic desirability, taking into consideration long-run effects is evaluated by a participatory, independent and transparent process and a retrieval and accountability regime is put in place, no GM crop should be introduced in the country”.
The recommendation comes after India’s GM crop regulator Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee recently recommended commercial usage of genetically modified mustard.
Socio-environment expert Sulagna Chattopadhyay welcomes the cautious step by the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) and slammed the pressure group allegedly pushing for the hasty introduction of GM crops. “An impression is being created that we need GM crops to boost yield, whereas there are many hybrid high-varieties available in the country for that.”
She also opposed the introduction of GM crops claiming that the gains of pest resistance shown by GM crops in initial years are lost in later years since other pests become strong and more damaging, forcing additional use of insecticides and escalation of farmers input cost.
Rajesh Krishnan, Convenor of Coalition for a GM-Free India had pointed out in context of introduction of GM mustard seeds, “This GM mustard is also a backdoor entry for various other GM crops in the regulatory pipeline – while herbicide tolerance as a trait has been recommended against by committee after committee in the executive, legislative and judiciary-based inquiry processes in India related to GM crops, this GM mustard uses herbicide tolerance. Contamination is inevitable of all other mustard varieties, while India is the Centre of Diversity for mustard.”
The Logical Indian hopes to keep its community members informed about the concerns raised by environmentalists and activists. We also urge the government to create a strict regulatory body to ensure that imported GM food does not affect the health and well-being of Indian consumers.