New Delhi: About one-third of locally available packaged and processed food, including imported edible oil, multigrain breakfast cereals and infant food, contain genetically modified (GM) ingredients, said a report by Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) on Thursday.
CSE conducted lab tests on 65 samples collected from the Delhi-National Capital Region, Gujarat and Punjab, and found that 32%, or 21 items, tested positive for GM. Out of the 21 food samples, 46%, or 16 samples, were imported food products available in upmarket grocery stores, including Khan Market and INA Market in Delhi.
Most GM-positive imported food products had soy, corn and rapeseed, the study found. Several existing Indian laws, including the Environment Protection Act, the Food Safety and Standards Act, and the foreign trade Act, prohibits import of GM food without regulatory approval.
“The scientific community is divided on the health and environmental impacts of GM food, but following the precautionary principle most countries place rigorous checks before allowing them," said Chandra Bhusan, deputy director general of CSE. “This is a clear case of regulatory failure happening due to inaction of Food Safety and Standards Authority of India."
India has, so far, not allowed the use of GM technology in agriculture, except for Bt cotton, a non-food crop, which was approved for commercial cultivation in 2002.
Lab tests on all the five samples of cotton seed oil produced domestically were found to be GM-positive, CSE said, adding that consumers were unknowingly using these oils for edible purposes, for which no permission was taken.
CSE further said that 65%, or 13 out of the 20 GM-positive samples, did not declare it on their labels. The items include imported canola oil brands such as Hudson, Farrell and Jivo, imported popcorn from American Garden, Fruit Loops mutigrain cereal from Kellogg’s, and domestic cottonseed oil brands such as Ankur and Vimal.
The CSE study found that three products had made false claims of being non-GM, but were GM-positive. The study also found that two imported infant food products meant for children who were lactose intolerant, or hypo-allergenic, were GM-positive. These items include Similac Isomil and Similac Alimentum, marketed by Abbott Healthcare Pvt. Ltd in India.
“Allowing unapproved GM food in India is both a matter of long-term unintended consequence and consumer choice, so labelling is a must... we were shocked to find that imported infant food brands did not tell parents that they contained GM ingredients," said Sunita Narain, director general of CSE.
Responding to the CSE study, FSSAI said in a statement that current laws do not permit imports of GM food, adding that the agency is in the process of framing regulations that “would essentially lay down procedures for safety assessment and approval of foods including imported foods, derived from genetic modification processes based on the internationally well established and accepted scientific principles, procedures and best practices."
“Kellogg India, as a responsible corporate citizen, abides by the Food Regulations of India. Kellogg India does not use any GM ingredients in the products manufactured or marketed by Kellogg India," said the official spokesperson for Kellogg India in e-mailed response to Mint.
An Abbott spokesperson said, “All of Abbott’s infant nutrition products in India fully comply with local regulations, our products have been approved by FSSAI and BIS, and are safe to consume."
Sounak Mitra contributed to this story.