CSE Exposes The Rot: From Canola Oil to Silken Tofu, Food Products with Genetically Modified Ingredients Sold With Utter Disregard for the Law
THE COUNTRY’S leading research and advocacy body — Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) — has red flagged the widespread availability of food products with genetically modified (GM) ingredients. And this illegal business is being conducted through friendly neighbourhood kirana stores without the knowledge of the store owners and, of course, the consumers.
The import, distribution and sale of such food products not only violate multiple laws, but also ignore the warning from the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR), issued as early as in 2008 (and then reiterated in 2012), that “there is a possibility of [genetically modified food products] introducing unintended changes, along with intended changes, which may in turn have an impact on the nutritional status or health of the consumer.” The expression ‘intended changes’ sounds creepy, doesn’t it?
The CSE’s reputed Pollution Monitoring Laboratory, which conducted tests on food products (30 imported and 35 domestically produced) randomly collected from retail outlets in Delhi-NCR, Punjab and Gujarat, has established that 32 per cent (21 out of 65) of the samples tested were GM-positive. About 80 per cent (16 out of 21) of those that tested positive were imported. These were made with or used soy, corn and rapeseed, and were imported from Canada, the Netherlands, Thailand, the UAE, and the United States.
GM food involves taking genes (DNA) from different organisms and inserting them into food crops. There is a concern that this ‘foreign’ DNA can lead to risks such as toxicity, allergic reactions, and nutritional and unintended impacts.
— Sunita Narain, Director, Centre for Science and Environment
Domestic producers and importers of GM food products are liable to prosecution under the following laws:
* The Environment Protection Act (EPA) prohibits the import, export, transport, manufacture, process, use or sale of any genetically engineered organisms except with the approval of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) under the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change. In 2016, the functions of the GEAC were transferred to the country’s food regulator, Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI).
* The 2006 Food Safety and Standards Act (FSSA) prohibits the import, manufacture, use or sale of GM food without the approval of the FSSAI. But the food regulator is yet to notify rules addressing the production, import and sale of food products with GM ingredients.
* The Legal Metrology (Packaged Commodities) Rules 2011 mandate that GM products used to produce a food item must be declared on the package.
* The Foreign Trade (Development and Regulation) Act 1992 also reiterates that GM food cannot be imported without the permission of the GEAC (I guess it’s the FSSAI now).
Some weeks back, the FSSAI issued a draft notification on labelling covering GM food as well. The CSE, however, is not happy. It wants the country’s top food regulator to come down hard on perpetrators of GM adulteration. Says Amit Khurana, CSE’s Programme Director, Food Safety and Toxins: “The FSSAI notification says that any food that has 5 per cent or more of GM ingredients, shall be labelled, provided this GM ingredient constitutes the top three in terms of percentage in the product. The exemption limit of 5 per cent is very relaxed compared to other countries such as the European Union, Australia, Brazil and South Korea, which have limits at or below 1 per cent.”
“There is also a catch,” Khurana added. “It is very difficult for the government to quantify the GM content in all foods: the tests are prohibitively expensive and technically cumbersome. This means that the regulatory agency is asking companies to ‘self-declare’ and say that they are within the 5 per cent limit and therefore, need not carry the GM tag.” But, as the CSE report shows, self-policing by the trade has not worked.
Shockingly, the labels of 65 per cent (13 out of 21) of the GM-positive samples did not mention anything about the presence of GM ingredients. The CSE report spotlights the following:
* Canola oil brands — Farrell imported from the UAE by Jindal Retails (India); Hudson, also from the UAE, marketed by Dalmia Continental; and Jivo, imported from Canada by Jivo Wellness.
* Five samples of cottonseed oil were tested from India – all tested positive. This is because BT-cotton is the single GM crop that’s been allowed for cultivation in the country. It is a big cause of worry, CSE’s Deputy Director General Chandra Bhushan points out. “First, no permission has been given for the use of GM cottonseed oil for human consumption. Second, cottonseed oil is also mixed in other edible oils, particularly vanaspati, which means we are consuming it without our knowledge.”
* Packaged foods such as ‘Pancake Syrup Original’ and ‘Popcorn Hot ‘N’ Spicy’ — both products of American Garden imported by Bajoria Foods; ‘Froot Loops’ — a sweetened multi-grain cereal from Kellogg’s imported by Newage Gourmet Foods; and ‘Crispy Corn Snacks’ from Bugles, distributed by General Mills Sales Inc, USA, and imported by Newage Gourmet Foods.
Three products, according to the CSE, made false claims suggesting that no GM ingredient was used. These were ‘Candrop’ Canola oil from Canada, imported by Century Edible Cooking Oils; ‘Mori-nu Silken Tofu’ from the US, imported by Olive Tree Trading; and ‘PromPlus Sweet Whole Kernel Corn’ from Thailand imported by Guru Kirpa Impex.
Four products that carried genetic engineering technology labels were ‘Butter and Garlic Croutons’ from Mrs Cubbison’s; ‘Corn Puffs’ by Trix – distributed by General Mills Sales Inc, USA; ‘Original Syrup’ from Aunt Jemima – distributed by Quaker Oats in the US; and ‘Dark Corn Syrup’ from Karo, US. All four products are imported by Newage Gourmet Foods.
In the recent past, the CSE has emerged as the conscience keeper of the food industry after conducting ground-breaking studies exposing the presence of potentially cancer-causing potassium bromate in the bread we eat, and on the rampant misuse of antibiotics pumped into chickens used by quick service restaurants.
“GM products, especially food, raise a crucial question of safety, though the jury is still out on this,” Sunita Narain, Director-General, CSE, said during the release of the shocking report. “This is because GM food involves taking genes (DNA) from different organisms and inserting them in food crops. There is a concern that this ‘foreign’ DNA can lead to risks such as toxicity, allergic reactions, and nutritional and unintended impacts.” If we do not listen to the voices of reason now, we’ll pay the heavy human price for our indifference.
For the complete report and related stories, go to https://www.downtoearth.org.in/