CSE study finds GM presence in infant food, packaged snacks

Genetically-modified (GM) processed food cannot be sold or traded in India without government approval, but a new lab study by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has found that it is widely sold without any control from health and food regulators.

A study released here on Thursday tested 65 food products available in the Indian market, of which 32% were found to be GM-positive. These food products were purchased at random from retail outlets in Delhi-NCR, Punjab and Gujarat. Both imported (35) and domestically produced (30) samples were tested. Imported samples fared the worst as 80% of the products that were found to be GM-positive were imported.

‘False claims’

“What is worse is that most GM foods did not disclose GM on their labels. A few also made false claims of being GM-free. The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India [FSSAI], the apex food regulator, negligent in regulating GM food, has failed to curb its illegal sales, its draft regulations on GM food labelling are weak and impractical to implement,” said CSE director Sunita Narain during the release of the report.

CSE study finds GM presence in infant food, packaged snacks

To curb this large-scale illegal presence and sale of GM-foods, CSE has recommended that FSSAI must set necessary approval processes, make stringent labelling standards, set up laboratories to check for GM foods and take action against those responsible for bringing such foods illegally into the market.

The products which were found to be GM-positive include infant food, edible oil and packaged food snacks. Most of these are imported from the US, Canada, the Netherlands, Thailand, and the UAE. These products were produced from or contain soya, cottonseed, corn or rapeseed (canola), which are known GM crops of the world.

Regulatory agencies

“Our government says it has not allowed import of GM food products. Then how is this happening? We have found that laws are not the problem — the regulatory agencies are,” said Ms. Narain.

CSE deputy director general Chandra Bhushan said: “We had been hearing about the presence of illegal GM food in India and decided to do a reality check by testing processed foods. We were shocked to see the scale at which GM foods have penetrated the Indian market. The regulatory authorities are to blame here — the FSSAI has not allowed any GM food on paper but has failed to curb its illegal sales.”

‘Question of safety’

“GM products, especially food, raise a crucial question of safety: a question of how safe are they. The jury is still out on that,” said Ms. Narain. This is because GM food involves taking genes (DNA) from different organisms and inserting them in food crops. There are concerns that this ‘foreign’ DNA may lead to risks such as toxicity, allergic reactions, and nutritional and unintended impact.

Most countries in the world, including India, have decided to take a ‘precautionary’ approach to GM food. They have set stringent regulations for approval and labelling. The EU, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil and South Korea have made it mandatory to label GM food so that consumers can choose what they eat.

Meanwhile, the CSE study found that GM food contains foreign promoter and terminator genes. More than 90% of GM crops in the market contain promoter genes like 35S promoter of cauliflower mosaic virus (CaMV) and FMV promoter of figwort mosaic virus, and NOS terminator of Agrobacterium tumefaciens. Using quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR), CSE’s lab screened the food products to ascertain whether they had a combination 35S promoter, NOS terminator and FMV promoter.

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Printable version | Aug 5, 2021 4:24:58 PM |

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