Citizens begin rejecting FSSAI’s draft regulations on GM foods which they find woefully inadequate – Growing demand for extension of deadline for public feedback beyond January 15th 2022

New Delhi, January 6th 2022: Citizen voices are getting stronger and louder against FSSAI’s draft regulations on GM foods. Citizens are also increasingly demanding for an extension of the deadline given for public feedback by FSSAI on its draft regulations as well as making the draft available in vernacular languages. FSSAI has notified draft regulations on GM foods on November 15th 2021, after dithering for years on the same. In fact, between the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee in the Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change and the FSSAI under the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, GM foods have been left virtually unregulated in India from April 2016. Under public pressure, FSSAI put in a new system for all importers of some select crops (apple, eggplant, maize, wheat, melon, pineapple, papaya, plum, potato, rice, soybean, sugarbeet, sugarcane, tomato, sweet pepper, squash, flax-seed, bean plum and chicory) for a mandatory “non-GM-origin-cum-GM-Free” certification, from 1st January 2021, but this is not applicable to processed GM foods.    

Against this backdrop, there is a growing demand for extension of the deadline given by FSSAI for public objections or suggestions, as the deadline draws closer. Public comments on these draft regulations have been sought till January 15th 2022, that too in a narrow format that has been prescribed by the Authority for such feedback. 

“It is clear that FSSAI is hoping to pave the way for easier entry of GM foods into India – the draft regulations reflect either this, or a lack of application of mind, or dearth of expertise/competence and responsibility towards the regulator’s mandate. Given the inherent lack of safety of transgenic technology, we have been saying that the only way applicants can get clearance is by compromising on regulations. FSSAI is doing exactly that at this point of time, in helping applicants find an easy route in. The most important duty of the Food Safety Authority as assigned under Sec.16 of the Food Safety and Standards Act 2006 – that of ensuring safe and wholesome food – is not being addressed with these draft regulations, especially given that there is enough scientific evidence on the adverse impacts of GM foods”, said Kapil Shah of Jatan Trust.

Both the Bt brinjal and GM HT mustard public debates, as well as consumer surveys in the past have made it amply clear that Indian citizens do not want GM foods entering their diets. Most state governments have also taken a policy stand against GM technology in food and farming systems. “The ploy of a frustrated biotech industry to try and bring in GM foods through the backdoor is clear from these draft regulations”, said Kapil Shah. 

Kavitha Kuruganti of the Coalition for a GM-Free India added, “Our past experience with the FSSAI is not very encouraging. For years, they sidestepped their responsibility with regard to illegal GM foods in the Indian food chain. When it came to FSSAI’s constitution of a scientific panel on GM foods, we had to point out how wrong their understanding of conflict of interest was, and also how such panels should be of experts on biosafety. We showed how members of their Scientific Panel were into GM crop development. It appears that the Panel was reconstituted later on but with several earlier members kept included. There is no rationale for the selection of the experts into the Scientific Panel, in fact. While this is so, the proposed regulations as notified in November 2021 are about FSSAI compromising on citizen interests, and facilitating the food industry’s business as usual. In fact, these regulations have been put out for public feedback after industry’s inputs have already been obtained. We do not accept these draft regulations”. 

“The draft regulations have no mention of how the ‘Authority’ will take its decisions, with what biosafety expertise, nor what kind of independent and long term testing regime with public scrutiny of results will guide the FSSAI in its decision-making. The threshold for labeling is a give-away of the compromises that FSSAI is already making. As we are having widespread conversations about the draft regulations, there is more and more demand from citizens for an extension of the deadline. We would like to communicate the same to FSSAI and a letter has gone to them today. Citizens are indeed keen on engaging with the regulator on this issue, and given how critical and controversial this issue is, FSSAI should extend the deadline for public feedback by at least 6 months, make the draft regulations available in vernacular languages and also organize public consultations. In the meantime, any GM foods sold in India are deemed to be illegal, given that there is no regulation notified, and no permission given by FSSAI. In fact, FSSAI should primarily be making sure that penal action is imposed on those selling illegal GM foods in the country right now”, said Rajesh Krishnan, a farmer and co-convenor of the Coalition. 

Meanwhile, online public petitions on platforms like Change.Org are gathering momentum with thousands of Indians signing on, asking FSSAI to ensure that India’s food chain be kept GM-Free. 

For more information, contact: Kavitha Kuruganti on 8880067772; Kapil Shah on 7567916751; Rajesh Krishnan on 7559915032

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