New Delhi, July 26 (IANS) A significant share of food products, including that for newborns, available in markets is contaminated with Genetically Modified (GM) ingredients and is being sold illegally, reveals a report published by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) on Thursday.
As many as 21 of the randomly picked 65 food products from different retail outlets in the country have been found GM positive in the lab testings by the non-profit organisation.
The findings raise serious concerns about health and environment as production, sale and import of GM foods is banned in the country without approval of the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) or the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) under the Ministry of Environment.
Addressing a press conference here, CSE Director General Sunita Narain said these GM-positive products were not labelled, so illegal sale of GM-contaminated food is widespread in the country.
“Our government says it has not allowed the import of GM food products. Then how is this happening? We have found that laws are not the problem, the regulatory agencies are,” she said.
CSE’s Pollution Monitoring Laboratory tested 65 food products, including edible oils, infant food and packaged snack products — 35 imported and 30 domestically produced — and found 32 per cent of these products were GM-positive.
The imported samples fared worse as 80 per cent of these products contain GM food.
CSE Deputy Director General Chandra Bhushan said the imported products from Canada, the Netherlands, Thailand, the UAE and the US were made of soy, corn and rapeseed.
“Nine of 16 oil samples, 10 of 39 packaged food samples and two of eight infant food samples have been found GM positive. Even all five samples of cottonseed oil produced in India have tested positive,” he said.
He raised concerns over “wilful avoidance” by the local authorities to contamination, and the FSSAI’s turning a blind eye to GM contaminated oil produced from Bt cotton in the country.
The non-profit body also took a dig at the FSSAI for allowing in its draft notification on labelling 5 per cent or more GM ingredients in food products when other laws framed in the past seek a complete ban on GM food.
“The Legal Metrology Rules 2011 mandates that GM must be declared on the food packages. However, the FSSAI’s recent notification allows GM ingredients up to 5 per cent,” Chandra Bhushan said.
In addition, quantifying the GM content in all foods is very expensive and technically cumbersome, he said, adding the FSSAI will have companies to ‘self-declare’ that the GM content is below 5 per cent.
Reacting to the lab findings, the Coalition for a GM-Free India slammed the government for “actively” jeopardising people’s health by allowing “illegal” and “hazardous” GM foods on a large scale.
“This is not just negligence but adoption of an anti-citizen policy by the Government. We say this because the government knowingly created a regulatory vacuum in which there is no authority taking responsibility to put a check on such GM foods from coming into our food supply chain. This is highly irresponsible and reprehensible,” it said in a statement.