India’s food safety watchdog FSSAI is planning to label genetically modified (GM) foods, which do not exist in India as of now. This move follows the decision of India’s apex regulator for GM foods, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), approving India’s first transgenic food crop GM Mustard for commercial cultivation last month. The environment ministry will of course take the final call.
According to Section 22 of the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, the FSSAI has the responsibility to regulate GM organisms and products once they are approved by GEAC. The FSSAI even submitted a status report before the Supreme Court, which is hearing a case against commercial cultivation of GM Mustard, and stressed that regulation is yet to be framed to regulate GM foods.
Ideally, it should have been FSSAI’s responsibility and final say on allowing GM food crops cultivation in the country, as it is the final authority in food testing and approvals in India, but it has quietly passed the buck on to the Environment Ministry.
Activists say that FSSAI should go beyond simply labelling GM foods. “We are talking about rigorous independent health safety assessment, and FSSAI should not get away from that role, and also look at edible oils derived from GM crops,” said Kavita Kuruganti of the Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture, a loose network of more than 400 organisations from 20 states working on farm issues.