The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) recently called for suggestions and comments from stakeholders on the draft Food Safety and Standards (Labelling and Display) Regulations, 2018.
The draft talks about several things, including the font and its sizing on labels, nutrient thresholds for different food items, the symbols, certification and declarations needed for different foods.
However, experts point out that the draft has two major flaws with regard to declarations for genetically modified foods and pesticide usage. For this reason, India for Safe Food (IFSF) has started a petition on Jhatkaa, a non-profit campaigning platform, urging people to respond to FSSAIâ€™s call for suggestions.
The GM controversy
Rohit Parakh, the Coordinator of ISFS, points out that while schedule IV of the FSSAIâ€™s draft does call for labelling of genetically engineered or modified foods, it only asks for the food having 5% and above GM ingredients to declare so.
According to a Supreme Court order from 2007, field trials for genetic modification in food crops shouldnâ€™t result in â€śany contamination to the cultivation of neighbouring fieldsâ€ť and require â€śvalidated event-specific protocols of testing to an LOD (Limit of Detection) of at least 0.01% to detect and confirm that there has been no contaminationâ€ť.
â€śThe FSSAI regulation putting the threshold for GM at 5% is far too high. Many developed countries like Germany have much lower limits. When the Supreme Court has made the minimum threshold to be 0.01%, then all foods having more genetically modified ingredients than that should declare so on their packaging,â€ť Rohit argues.
He adds that studies have not yet been able to conclusively evaluate the long-term effects of GM foods. â€śItâ€™s better to be cautious when we do not know the impact something can have,â€ť he cautions.
According to the ISFS website for instance, â€śIt has been documented that outcrossing of the genes affects native diversity. It is also seen that there are unintended adverse impacts on non-target and often beneficial organisms. Pest resistance, pest resurgence, emergence of tolerant weeds, impacts on soil health etc., are all potential results of cultivation of GM crops. Farmers who wish to remain GM-free and even organic will have their crops contaminated due to outcrossing from neighbouring GM fields, if any.â€ť
Arguing that â€śtesting facilities around the world can detect GM presence to a level of 0.01%â€ť, the petition urges the Regulations Department as well as the CEO of FSSAI that â€śIndia must also adopt a 0.01% threshold for GM presence, whether in food or animal feed.â€ť It also points out that the draft does not talk about GM presence in animal feed.
Rohit and Kavita Kuruganti, the convenor of ASHA, say a prominent flaw in the FSSAI draft is that it makes no mention of pesticides.
The adverse of continued use pesticides in food are well documented. The Jhatkaa petition argues, â€śDeadly pesticides, including those banned elsewhere, are allowed to be used in our food production in India. The draft regulation on labelling and display right now does not touch upon this topic that will help consumers make informed choices.â€ť
â€śIt is pertinent for the FSSAI to uphold the consumersâ€™ right to safe food. And to exercise that, a consumer needs to know what is in their food so that they can make an informed choice,â€ť Kavita asserts.
â€śThese pesticides must be mandatorily labelled when food is being sold at retail shelves,â€ť ISFSâ€™s petition urges. It also allows you to send a reply saying the same to the FSSAI. You can access it here.