Doors opened for processed GM foods to enter market
Indian Express, September 26 2007
Order regulation will now be restricted only to GM products which can be grown, replicated
NEW DELHI, SEPTEMBER 25: In a move thats likely to have a significant bearing on the food processing industry, the Government has allowed processed food containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and exempted it from regulatory approval.
The Ministry of Environment and Forests issued a notification on September 11 that grants exemption to foodstuff whose end-products are not Living Modified Organisms (LMOs) - living organisms can be used to propagate or reproduce, like in seeds.
The notification has tremendous implication for the food processing industry which uses ingredients and additives made of genetically modified corn, maize and soya.
Until now, producers and importers had to go through the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), the apex body for clearing all GMOs.
According to a GEAC member, the mandate of the committee is "environmental safety". Since GMOs in this form do not propagate or grow, it "does not fall in their purview". Rule 11 of the Environment Protection Act has been amended to make this exemption possible.
Regulators say it should be a "health-concern" and should be regulated as per the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act and Rules 1954 or under the new Food Safety and Standard Act 2005. But the system under this new Act is yet to become operational.
Both the Swaminathan Committee on Agricultural Biotechnology and Mashelkar Committee on r-Pharma have taken the view that the GEAC should be involved only in regulation of organisms or products where the end-product is a LMO.
This notification marks a major shift in the way GMOs are regulated in the country after being first introduced in the form of Bt cotton in 2002.
But activists are not too happy. Reacting to the new notification, Suman Sahai of Gene Campaign said: "This is introducing a new set of laxity in the system and violates our own laws."
According to the new Food Safety and Standards Act, all genetically modified food need to have labels.
"This will mean that there will be no traceability and in case there is a problem, there is no way liability can be fixed. This is not desirable at all," said Sahai. Though the US has been selling genetically modified food for nearly two decades now without labels, there have been stray cases of health hazards associated with processed GMOs.
The most well-known is the 1989 incident where a genetically engineered brand of L-tryptophan, a common dietary supplement, killed 37 Americans and permanently disabled or afflicted more than 5,000 others with a painful and potentially fatal blood disorder, eosinophilia myalgia syndrome (EMS), before it was recalled by the US Food and Drug Administration.
The manufacturer, Showa Denko, Japans third largest chemical company, has already paid out over $2 billion in damages to EMS victims.
The import of soya oil for humanitarian aid has led to some controversy in the past. It was finally approved after certification from the country of export that it has been derived from Roundup Ready Soybeans. In case of crude soybean oil, the importer was asked to submit a series of analytical reports from government-approved laboratories.
For now, the lengthy regulatory route will no longer be required to import soya oil to India.
Infant formula to salad dressing
In the US, 7 out of 10 processed products on the shelf have some ingredient or the other that is a genetically modified corn or soya derivative. Labelling is not mandatory and unless specified as "organic", it is likely to contain GMOs.
Corn derivatives: Malt, corn syrup, baking powder, confectioners sugar, food starch and fructose sugar
Soya derivatives: Bread, soya sauce, tofu, margarine, soya lecithin, protein isolates
Common products: Infant formula, cereal, mayonnaise, crackers, candy, peanut butter, tomato sauce, ice cream, chips, chocolate, salad dressing, frozen yogurt
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