Consumer health at risk with non-synergistic governance of enforcing departments
Section 22 of FSS Act delineates the restrictions on the manufacture, sale and distribution of genetically engineered foods (GM). Every launch of GM food should be precedented with an approval from the Indian food apex body i.e. FSSAI. Further, in the FSS Act the scope of GM foods are included in the definition of food and Section 13 stipulates the need of scientific panel to act without prejudice in the approval process of GM foods along with scientific committee. On the contrary, similar scope is also covered in Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) under Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF) and to this extent there are only couple of products given the GM status in India i.e. Bt Cotton, Mustard. However, the later was withdrawn following a stay order from Supreme Court alleging the approval procedures lacking relevant tests and without entire bio-safety dossier for commercial release. Let us see how these incumbent departments left the enforcement to shambles
What is genetically modified food and why it can be harmful?
As per WHO genetically modified (GM) foods are foods derived from organisms whose genetic material (DNA) has been modified in a way that does not occur naturally, e.g. through the introduction of a gene from a different organism. All GM foods should be assessed before being allowed on the market and FAO/WHO Codex provided guidelines for conducting the risk assessment. The interminable list of harmful effects published by a consortium of American Doctors from Institute of responsible technology can be accessed here https://responsibletechnology.org/ and hence the emphasis on the impartial risk assessment of such products
How and who unraveled the presence of GM in Indian food market?
In a fist of its kind surveillance in India, Centre for science and environment (CSE) has conducted a comprehensive assessment on the availability of GM ingredients in the packed food products which are for sale in retail outlets. One has to appreciate the efforts of Shri. Sunita Narain CSE, Director General and her team in successfully driving this initiative. The surveillance was quintessential and also a meticulous approach was observed in sampling, analysis, reporting and dissemination. CSE along with magazine downtoearth (https://www.downtoearth.org.in/) has bought these findings into the public domain
Where can one access the fact finding reports of GM positive brands?
As per the report from CSE, a 32 percent of the sampled food products were tested positive with GM ingredients and out of which 40 percent are imported from various country of origins. These were made of or used soya, corn and rapeseed and were imported from Canada, the Netherlands, Thailand, the UAE, and the US. About 17 per cent of the samples manufactured in India tested positive. The category of products includes edible oils, sweet corn, soya chunks, popcorn, protein supplements and even infant food. All these products are widely consumed in the Indian diet
- Special Coverage by Downtoearth - The summary report along with the detailed analysis reports of these products can be accessed here. Please click as shown below from downtoearth site
Why GM food is allowed in India without approvals?
This is the pertinent question. While one department shrugged off their responsibilities by releasing a press note and the other has no jurisdiction in the enforcement. Although, CSE highlighted the results and confronted FSSAI for responses there is no proper response from the Regulator on this topic. These products are being sourced illegally and sold in India and that too without proper risk assessment
Conclusion Considering the categories like infant foods are targeting vulnerable groups, the incumbent departments should take immediate action of recalling these products from the markets rather than being too complacent of their insignificant and superficial work. Further, we please the readers to make a note of the brands that are tested positive and be vigilant in making purchase decisions.
Once again commendable work by CSE and indeed stands exemplary
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