New Delhi: With a regulatory vacuum surrounding import of genetically modified (GM) processed foods, India’s GM regulator has suggested an urgent meeting to resolve the issue.

Till then, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), has decided to look into applications related to import of GM processed foods.

The issue was discussed at the 12 April meeting of GEAC, which is India’s nodal regulator for GM crops and other transgenic products.

“The Committee noted that in 2007 the ministry has taken a decision to amend Rule 11 for excluding processed food from the purview of GEAC through a gazette notification dated 23 08 2007," according to the minutes of the GEAC’s meeting, which were reviewed by Mint.

“The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (vide their communication dated 26 12 2007) requested MoEFCC (Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change) to continue regulation of GM processed foods till the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) is able to look into the matter in a scientific manner and come out with a notification," said the minutes of the meeting.

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FSSAI specifies standards and guidelines for food and is also supposed to give scientific advice and technical support to the central and state governments in framing policy and rules in areas which have a direct or indirect bearing on food safety and nutrition.

“Accordingly, MoEFCC started keeping in abeyance the earlier issued notification at regular intervals and the last gazette notification got expired on 31 March, 2016 The Committee suggested convening a meeting with FSSAI at the earliest to understand and resolve this issue of GM processed foods as currently there is a vacuum with respect to GM processed foods in the country," the GEAC noted.

“It was also agreed that GEAC should look into applications related to import of GM processed food till FSSAI comes with detailed guidelines/regulations," the expert panel said.

The issue of GM foods is contentious in India amid unresolved concerns surrounding safety. The environment ministry and GEAC are yet to take a final cal. on allowing commercialization of GM mustard crop. If it is allowed, it will become the first transgenic food crop to be commercially cultivated in India, where only GM cotton is grown.

Not just GM processed food, GEAC had also expressed concern over lack of any definitive guidelines around import of distiller’s dried grains with solubles (DDGS) made from GM corn in the US. It had formed a sub-committee to prepare guidelines on the subject and a final decision on the subject is still pending. DDGS is considered an excellent ingredient for use in animal feeds.

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Activists are disappointed with the government.

“There is indeed a vacuum in regulation of processed GM foods in this country, de facto and de jure too. This is apparent from the fact that FSSAI continues to make various excuses as to why it is not getting involved in regulating GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and products thereof, though it shows undue haste in regulating organic foods which actually contribute to food safety, unlike GM foods which make food unsafe," said Kavitha Kuruganti of the Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture, a nationwide informal network of more than 400 organizations drawn from 20 states.

“GEAC on the other hand has been waiting for years to sidle out of its responsibility related to products thereof, when it comes to gene technologies. And then there is the commerce ministry which is allowing processed GM foods to be imported in violation of its DGFT Act. Meanwhile, the consumer affairs department does not do anything about implementing its labelling rules for GM (food) under the Legal Metrology Act. All in all, Government of India is delivering an unacceptable and unsafe fait accompli on Indian citizens with unsafe GM foods," she added.

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