World Food Day - call to boycott GM soya, corn, canola food products (16/10/2007)

From Kavitha Kuruganti of the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture:

Today is World Food Day. As you know, on September 11th, Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC, in the Ministry of Environment & Forests, Government of India), which has been vested with the powers of regulating and approving GM foods and crops in India since 1989, has unilaterally issued a notification saying that GM food products are exempt from regulatory processes from thenon.

This is a matter of serious concern as GM foods are known to cause several health problems. Further, in India, consumers have no way of distinguishing GM products from non-GM products as there is no system of labelling here. On this October 16th, we are putting out a call to all consumers to boycott (GM) corn, soya and canola products. Consumers should be particularly wary about those products that have corn, soya, canola and cotton seed derivatives that have been packaged and imported from USA, Canada etc.

On this World Food Day, consumers are being reminded that the Government of India''s decision to exempt GM food products from regulatory processes (that too without a labelling regime in place) is violating their right to safe food and their right to know...

GM foods'' entry into India : What does this mean?

October 16th every year is marked as World Food Day. It is a day to remind ourselves about food and hunger; about food security, food safety and food sovereignty. For Indians, this October 16th is more important than usual – this is in the context of food safety of several foods in India being jeopardized due to a new agricultural technology called Genetic Modification (GM) [also used interchangeably with Genetic Engineering, GE]. Food products derived from GE are now allowed into the Indian markets with no regulation in place.

Using this technology in farming, big companies for their commercial interests are altering the very basic structure of the building blocks of life on this planet – DNA of living beings - in an irreversible way. Both genetically modified organisms (GMOs which are capable of propagation) and products derived from GM technology (processed) are matters of concern since they have potential adverse health and environmental impacts. It has been documented that GM foods have altered toxicity or allergenicity or nutritional composition than their non-GM counterparts. Several health risks have been well documented with these foods and our food safety is under threat from GM crops.

A variety of GM products have now entered the Indian food chain. While some suspected GM products have been imported into the country right from 1999 onwards, an official notification from the Ministry of Environment & Forests on September 11th 2007, exempting GM food products from regulatory processes has opened the floodgates of GM food products’ imports into the country in a legalized fashion. Incidentally, the GEAC in its May 2nd 2006 meeting had discussed the fact that GM food products are coming into the country without its notice and had said that any exemptions or alterations in the existing Rules will be made only if an alternate mechanism is put into place. However, in September 2007, without waiting for such an alternate mechanism, they notified an amendment to the 1989 Rules stating that such products are exempted from regulatory approvals.

Some data related to these imports:

- India imports around 2 million tonnes of de-gummed soybean oil every year from Argentina, Brazil and USA – this is GM or GM-contaminated. In addition, India also imports refined soybean oil from these countries.
- India also imports canola oil from abroad, including from Canada. More than 80% of all canola production in Canada is of GE origin. About a fifth of our vegetable oil imports are soy. Canola oil is expected to touch a 500 crore market segment in 5 years’ time (right now, 200 tonnes in the 5 lakh tones vegetable oil imports).
- In the USA, 65% of all corn, 90% of soybean and more than 50% of canola is out of Genetic Engineering.
- In the US, seven out of 10 products have some GM corn or soya derivative.
- India has witnessed steady increases in soy consumption in the past decade. From 1996 to 2005, more than $ 5 million high value soy protein products have been imported into India from USA. Note that this is the period in which soybean production in America shifted to large scale GM soy cultivation.

Products to look out in India now, with suspected GM contamination, include infant formula, cereals, mayonnaise, crackers and chips, salad dressings, sauces, edible oils etc. which have imported soy, corn and canola derivatives.

Some products available right now which could contain GM ingredients/ derivatives are: American Garden''s corn syrup, American Garden''s bread crumbs, Hudson canola oil from Canada, Wesson canola oil from USA, Marico''s soy sauce, Green Giant’s Sweet Corn kernels, Blue Diamond Almond Breeze, American Garden''s pop corn, Munch King''s Corn chips, Procter & Gamble’s Pringle chips etc. etc. This is only a small list made from one trip to upmarket food shops in cities like Hyderabad. In addition to this, infant food formula products imported from the USA in addition to other infant products with soy and corn derivatives could also be classified as suspected GM food products.

While most Indians are getting in touch with GM products one way or the other (imported soyabean oil, for example, getting into vanaspati or Bt Cotton-contaminated cotton seed oil), with the products listed above, it is the interests of urban middle classes and upper class consumers who procure from supermarkets imported packaged products which are at threat now with GM foods. It is ironical that while in the past most such dangerous experimentation happened on the poor and marginalized in the country, this particular experimentation in on the relatively affluent people who are determining most policies in modern India! However, these sections of Indian society do not seem to be aware of implications of GM in their food.

What is worrisome is that millions of consumers in India are not even aware about Genetic Modification as a technology being deployed in their food production. Even for those who are aware about it, there are no choices left since there is no labelling regime in place. For those consumers who buy packaged products, a labelling regime enforced in the country might help in making informed choices; however, a majority of Indian consumers are not literate nor do they buy packaged food products from supermarket shelves. This new development related to GM food products in India completely violates the right to know of consumers. It also highlights once again that the regulators do not have the interest or capability to work towards protecting the interests of ordinary Indians.

It should be remembered that even with the case of GM crops’ production in India, illegal Bt Cotton made its entry first, followed by regulation. The attitude is – “since it is already there, you might as well allow it”. The same is happening now with GM food products.

It is time that all of us in India, as consumers and active citizens, exercised our rights and options and insisted on safety testing and regulation for GM food products. It is time that we insisted on labelling and got it. It is also time that we boycotted soy, canola and corn products, until the food retailers tell you whether a product is GM or not.
Evidence of Health Risks in Animals and Humans Due to Genetically Engineered Foods

Adapted from: Genetic Roulette: A documented health risks of genetically engineered foods / Jeffrey M. Smith, 2007.

1. Rats fed on genetically modified potato developed precancerous cell growth in the digestive tract, inhibited development of their brains, livers, and testicles, partial atrophy of the liver, enlarged pancreases and intestines, and immune system damage.
Source: Arpad Pusztai, “Can science give us the tools for recognizing possible health risks of GM food,” Nutrition and Health, 2002, Vol 16 pp73-84

2. Monsanto’s own experiment with feeding rats with Bt corn for 90 days caused significant changes in their blood cells, livers, and kidneys.
Source: John M. Burns,” 13-Week Dietary Subchronic Comparison Study with MON 863 Corn in Rats Preceded by a 1-Week Baseline Food Consumption Determination with PMI Certified Rodent Diet #5002,” December 17, 2002

3. In 1997, twelve dairy cows died on a farm in Hesse, Germany after being fed a diet with Bt corn.
Source: Henning Strodthoff and Christoph Then,” Is GM maize responsible for deaths of cows in Hesse?,” Greenpeace Report, Greenpeace e.V.22745 Hamburg. December 2003.

4. Liver cells of mice fed Roundup Ready soybeans developed irregularly shaped nuclei and nucleoli, an increased number of nuclear pores and other changes.
Source: M. Malatesta, C. Caporaloni, S. Gavaudan, M.B. Rocchi, S. Serafini, C. Tiberi, G. Gazzanelli, “Ultrastructural Morphometrical and Immunocytochemical Analyses of Hepatocyte Nuclei from Mice Fed on Genetically Modified Soybean,” Cell Struct Funct. 27 (2002): 173-180

5. Mice fed GM soy showed changes in the synthesis and processing of digestive enzymes. The production of alpha-amylase, a major digestive enzyme, dropped by as much as 77%.
Source: Malatesta et al,” Ultrastructural Analysis of Pancreatic Acinar Cells from Mice Fed on Genetically Modified Soybean,” 409

6. The structure and gene expression of testicle cells of mice fed Roundup Ready soybeans changed significantly.
Source: L. Vecchio et al,“ Ultrastructural Analysis of Testes from Mice Fed on Genetically Modified Soybean,” European Journal of Histochemistry 48, no. 4 (Oct-Dec 2004): 449-454

7. Rabbits fed GM soy for about 40 days showed significant differences in the amounts of certain enzymes in their kidneys, heart and livers.
Source: Tudisco et al, ”Genetically Modified Soybean in Rabbit Feeding: detection of DNA Fragments and Evaluation of Metabolic Effects by Enzymatic Analysis,” 193-199.
8. In a single year, 1999, soy allergies in the United Kingdom jumped from 10 percent to 15 percent of the sampled population. GM soy was first imported into the country shortly before 1999.
Source: Mark Townsend, “Why soya is a hidden destroyer,” Daily Express, March 12, 1999.

9. The livers of rats fed GM canola were 12-16 percent heavier than those fed non-GM varieties. Heavier livers may indicate liver disease or inflammation.
Source: Comments on ANZFA about Applications A346, A362 and A363 from the Food Legislation and Regulation Advisory Group (FLARG) of the Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA) on behalf of the PHAA, ”Food produced from glyphosate-tolerant canola line GT73.

10. The death rate for chickens fed Chardon LL GM corn for 42 days was twice of that among controls. GM-fed chicken also had more erratic body weight and food intake, and less weight gain overall/
Source: S. Leeson,” The Effect of Glufosinate Resistant Corn on Growth of Male Broiler Chickens,” Department of Animal and Poultry Sciences, University of Guelph, Report No. A56379, July 12, 1996.

11. Protein produced by GM peas generated a dangerous immune response in mice. The response in mice suggested that the GM peas could provoke inflammatory or allergic reactions in humans.
Source: V.E. Prescott, et al, “Transgenic Expression of Bean r-Amylase Inhibitor in Peas Results in Altered Structure and Immunogenicity,” Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry (2005): 53.

12. One brand of food supplement L-tryptophan created a deadly US epidemic in the 1980s. About 100 people died while 5,000-10,000 fell sick.
Source: William E. Crist,” The Toxic L-Tryptophan Epidemic”

New Delhi, the 23rd August 2007
S.O. 1519(E).-Whereas, the Central Government, with a view to protecting the environment, nature and health ill connection with the application of gene technology and micro-organisms, has notified the Manufacture, Use, Import, Export and Storage of Hazardous micro-organisms / Genetically engineered organisms or Cells Rules, 1989 (hereinafter referred to as the said Rules) vide number G.S.R. 1037(E), dated the 5th December, 1989;

And, whereas, rule 20 of the said Rules empowers the Ministry of Environment and Forests to exempt an occupier handling a particular micro-organisms/genetically engineered organisms from the application of the provisions of rules 7 to 11 of the said Rules;

And, whereas, the Ministry of Environment and Forests considers it necessary that the occupier of processed food derived from living modified organisms specified in column (1) of the Table below may be exempted from the provisions or the rule specified in column (2) of the said Table;
Now, therefore, in pursuance of rule 20 of the Manufacture, Use, Import, Export and Storage of Hazardous micro-organisms/Genetically engineered organisms or Cells Rules, 1989, the Ministry of Environment and Forests, hereby exempts the occupier of the processed food derived from living modified organisms specified in the Table with effect from the date of publication of this notification in the Official Gazette, namely:

Processed food items derived from living modified organisms Rule from which exempted (1) (2)
Food stuffs, ingredients in food stuffs and additives Rule II including processing aids derived from Living Modified Organisms where the end product is not a Living Modified Organisms.

[F. No. 13/16/2007-CS.-IIl]
A. K GOYAL,Jt. Secy.

Note :
The Manufacture, Use, Import, Export and Storage, of Hazardous micro-organisms / Genetically engineered organisms or Cells Rules, 1989 were published in the Gazette of India, Extraordinary, vide number G.S.R. 1037(E), dated the 5th December, 1989, which came into force vide notification S.O. 677(E), dated the 13th September, 1993, and were subsequently amended vide notification numbers G.S.R.493 (E), dated the 14th July, 2005 and G.S.R. 616(E), dated the 20th September, 2006.

PART II-SEC. 3(ii) S.O.No.1519 (E)
New Delhi, on the 11th Sept, 2007

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