FSSAI plans to regulate GM food

FSSAI plans to regulate GM food

In what appears to be a classic case of putting a cart before the horse, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has released a plan to label genetically modified food in India, months after informing the Supreme Court that genetic foods are not allowed to be sold in India.

Last month FSSAI came out with a set of draft rules on labelling and display of food items. The draft carries a section on how food items containing genetically engineered elements should be labelled.

The proposal looks straightforward enough except for the fact that genetically engineered or modified foods are not legally allowed to be sold in India till date.

The FSSAI had informed the Supreme Court in May 2017 that “manufacture, distribution, sale and import of GM food” are not allowed in India and could not be regulated till the government opens up the gate through an official notification.

The food regulator submitted its response to the top court in connection with a public interest litigation that began in 2006.

“It is inconsistent and ultra vires for FSSAI to issue a draft notification that allows for GM ingredients, at a time when any selling, stocking, distributing of GM foods itself is illegal, as per FSSAI’s affidavit in the Supreme Court. FSSAI must remove this entirely,” said Sridhar Radhakrishnan, co-convenor, on behalf of Coalition for GM Free India – an alliance of NGOs that oppose GM technology.

The draft rules state: “All food products having total genetically engineered ingredients 5% or more shall be labelled. The total GE ingredients shall be of top three ingredients in terms of their percentage in the product. The labelling shall be: 'Contains GMO/Ingredients derived from GMO'.”

While GM food is not allowed in the Indian market, way back in 2001, environmental group Greenpeace had alleged that two food products purchased from a prominent south Delhi market contained GM elements. One of the products was a popular potato chips brand and the second one was baby food.

Greenpeace charges were on the basis of testing the food items from a food testing laboratory in Hong Kong.

In its affidavit in the Supreme Court, FSSAI admitted that the issue of labelling GM food is a very complex one that may lead to product cost escalation and the government discussed it multiple times since 2005-06.