With four days left for public comment on draft regulations issued by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) for genetically modified (GM) foods on January 11, social media was flooded with calls for protest against the Union government. alleged movement to allow the introduction of these edibles into India.
This draft regulation entitled Food Safety and Standards (Genetically Modified or Modified Foods) Regulations, 2021 were published on November 15, 2021 and the deadline for submission of public comments is January 15, 2022.
Leading the protest against the proposed regulations is an organization called the Coalition for a GM Free India, a nationwide network of organizations and individuals concerned about the release of genetically modified organisms into the environment.
Kavitha Kuruganti, a social activist who is also the founding coordinator of the Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA), tweeted that “In SC @fssaiinde declared that genetically modified foods are not allowed. Why then are they keeping silent about the arrival of illegal GM foods? Why don’t they crack down on unsafe food even though food safety is the main duty??! #NoGMFoods @mansukhmandviya @ashwani_mahajan”
“Within the food industry, there is a push to import genetically modified food products. They have already secured permission in the poultry industry to introduce GM soybeans as poultry feed,” said Usha Soolapani, a Thiruvananthapuram-based rice activist and co-founder of Thanal, an environmental organization. Gaon Login.
Stating that the consumption of GM food has not only health but also environmental repercussions, Soolapani added, “ASHA Network and the Coalition for a GM Free India are working across the country to promote sustainable agriculture and ensure food safety. We fear that if cheap GM foods are allowed in the country, it will have long-term health consequences.
Soolapani also pointed out that the draft guidelines presented by the FSSAI are not easily accessible to people as they were published in English and have not been translated into vernacular languages.
“Only a handful of people who know about this problem have read it. Even the representatives of the state government did not give any feedback, no discussion took place between them. We want the government to extend the deadline for public comments, and also want the drafts translated into the vernacular so that a discussion can take place. There is no reason to speed up regulation since GM foods are currently not allowed in India,” Soolapani said. The deadline for public comments on the draft is January 15, 2022.
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What are activists asking for?
A comment letter to the FSSAI was released by the Coalition for a GM Free India which cited a host of issues with the draft regulations.
Stating that a majority of Indian states have adopted policies against GMOs in food and agricultural systems, the letter demanded that each request be processed after obtaining inputs and recommendations from state governments.
“The processing and adjudication of a GM ingredient approval application should also ensure that any state government’s ‘GM-free food policy’ is completely and inviolably protected and adhered to,” the letter states.
The letter also highlighted the role of the Genetic Engineering Assessment Committee (GEAC) under the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change. Recognizing that GM foods have ramifications for the environment and animal welfare, in addition to human health, GM food regulations should be developed in alignment with GEAC regulations. “The 1989 EPA rules mandate the GEAC to regulate all GM foods,” the letter states.
In its letter, the coalition body also demanded that for each application submitted to the FSSAI, biosafety data be submitted as third-party test results on GM foods, according to a prescribed set of tests in order to prove safety to long term and complete. said GM food product.
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Another important point the letters raise is that the labeling requirement for GM foods should have a 0.1% threshold.
“Labelling as a mechanism for a limited set of consumers to know their right to know and make informed choices should in no way be diluted and should be mandatory. The labeling requirement should come into effect maintaining the threshold at 0.01% when the detection mechanism is able to provide it at a threshold of 0.01%. Therefore, labeling should become mandatory if a food contains an individual GM ingredient/material at the 0.01% threshold,” the letter suggested. According to the proposed FSSAI regulations, all food products containing at least one percent genetically modified (GM) ingredients must be labelled.
Impact on agriculture
It is important to note that in India, the only GM crop permitted to be imported is cotton. In 2021, it was reported that India is ready to import 15 lakh tons of GM soybean meal, given the increased demand by the poultry industry, after obtaining approval from the relevant authorities. Prior to the introduction of the mentioned guidelines, GM foods were not permitted in the country. In 2010, attempts were made to introduce Bt brinjal which did not materialize.
Explaining how the introduction of GM foods will affect farmers and farming practices in India, Kapil Shah, director of Jatan, an organization promoting organic farming in Vadodara, Gujarat, said Gaon Login, “If genetically modified foods are allowed today, genetically modified crops could be introduced tomorrow, which will be very harmful to farmers, especially small farmers. It will contaminate non-GM crops through vertical or horizontal gene transfer. GM crops emit toxins unlike non-GM crops due to the BT genes they contain and the herbicides sprayed on them so they are more harmful to the environment.
Speaking about the need to test and monitor the harmful effects of GM crops on the environment, Shah added that GM crops disrupt agricultural ecology. “It can pollute air, water, including aquatic life and soil organisms too,” he said.
Shah also pointed out that using GM crops will not give farmers the option to switch to organic farming or practice natural farming. “The use of chemicals will also increase the cost of production for farmers. On top of that, if the neighbor of an organic farmer uses GM crops, his crop will also be contaminated. Debris from BT or GM crops remain in the soil which carries Bt toxins. toxins,” he said.
In addition, he also said that seed companies want farmers to buy seeds from the market every year, and that GM technology is used in such a way that farmers lose their seed sovereignty, which is very fundamental for the Food Safety.
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The draft FSSAI regulations can be accessed here.