GM foray


Down to Earth - - CONTENTS -

CSE's study finds how ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied foods are il­le­gally en­ter­ing our kitchens

In a first-of-its-kind study in In­dia, the Cen­tre for Sci­ence and En­vi­ron­ment (CSE) tested 65 food prod­ucts avail­able in the mar­ket to see if they con­tained ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied (GM) in­gre­di­ents. To its hor­ror, CSE found GM genes in 32 per cent of the prod­ucts; al­most 80 per cent of them im­ported. How did these prod­ucts find their way into the coun­try when food safety law pro­hibits the man­u­fac­ture, im­port and sale of GM food? Who is to be blamed for this il­le­gal­ity?

IT ALL started at the wean­ing stage. Nikki (name changed) was about to turn one when it be­came ev­i­dent that she was not gain­ing weight. Af­ter sev­eral vis­its to pe­di­a­tri­cians and multiple tests, she was di­ag­nosed with cow milk pro­tein al­lergy—a dis­or­der found in some 7 per cent of chil­dren in the coun­try. The doc­tors said that Nikki’s im­mune sys­tem con­sid­ers the pro­tein in cow milk as some­thing that the body has to fight off. This leads to dam­age of the intestinal mu­cosa lin­ing for which Nikki is not able to digest most of what she eats and suf­fers from chronic di­ar­rhoea. They sug­gested changes in her diet—first elim­i­nate all po­ten­tially al­ler­genic foods from her diet, so that the intestinal lin­ing can heal, and then rein­tro­duce one food at a time to mon­i­tor pos­si­ble re­ac­tions. Till she out­grows the al­lergy, doc­tors rec­om­mended a hypoallergenic in­fant for­mula, Sim­i­lac Ali­men­tum to sup­ple­ment her nu­tri­tional needs. Man­u­fac­tured and im­ported by Amer­i­can health­care gi­ant Ab­bott Lab­o­ra­to­ries, a 400 gram packet of Sim­i­lac Ali­men­tum costs `2,800 and can meet Nikki’s re­quire­ment for about 10 days. But cost is the last thing on the mind of Nikki’s mother, an oc­cu­pa­tional ther­a­pist in east Delhi. Ev­ery day she care­fully pre­pares the for­mula milk meet­ing the pre­scribed cal­i­bra­tion stan­dards to en­sure that Nikki re­gains health. Lit­tle does she know that all these months she has been feed­ing her tod­dler ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied (GM) food, whose safety to health has been a mat­ter of con­cern world­wide.

Re­searchers with the Cen­tre for Sci­ence and En­vi­ron­ment (cse) in Delhi re­cently found ev­i­dence of GM in­gre­di­ents in Sim­i­lac Ali­men­tum and an­other in­fant for­mula by Abott—Sim­i­lac Isomil, which is meant for the lac­tose in­tol­er­ant. In­fants with lac­tose in­tol­er­ance can­not digest the sugar found in milk and dairy prod­ucts and are of­ten pre­scribed soya milk which is nat­u­rally lac­tose-free.

The find­ing is alarm­ing be­cause the prod­ucts are be­ing in­creas­ingly pre­scribed by doc­tors for in­fants with spe­cial health needs. It is also alarm­ing be­cause in an af­fi­davit sub­mit­ted to the Supreme Court last year, the Food Safety and Stan­dards Au­thor­ity of In­dia (fssai) said, “The Central gov­ern­ment has not no­ti­fied any reg­u­la­tion under Sec­tion 22 of the Food Safety and Stan­dards Act in re­gard to (sic) the man­u­fac­ture, dis­tri­bu­tion, sale and im­port of GM foods. Hence, GM foods are not al­lowed in the coun­try and nei­ther can be reg­u­lated till such no­ti­fi­ca­tion is is­sued.”

But the list of such il­le­gal GM prod­ucts be­ing sold in In­dia does not end here.


Over the past six months, cse re­searchers an­a­lysed 65 food prod­ucts that are likely to con­tain soy­abean, corn, rape­seed (canola) or cot­ton­seed oil in some form or the other. These are the crops whose GM vari­ants are grown on 99 per cent of the area under trans­genic food crops in dif­fer­ent parts of the world, and are used in ev­ery­day food like cook­ing oils, break­fast ce­re­als, ready-to-cook and ready-to-eat foods, in­fant for­mula and pro­tein sup­ple­ments. Thirty of the food prod­ucts are man­u­fac­tured do­mes­ti­cally; the re­main­ing im­ported. The prod­ucts were tested at cse’s state-of-the-art Pol­lu­tion Mon­i­tor­ing Lab­o­ra­tory (pml), now at Nimli, Al­war, which has been cred­ited for sev­eral hard-hit­ting ex­posé over the past two decades (see ‘Setting stan­dards’, p36). To test food prod­ucts for the presence of GM in­gre-

There have been wide­spread re­ports about GM seeds be­ing avail­able across the coun­try and crops be­ing grown il­le­gally

di­ents, pml ac­quired high-end ma­chines and in­stru­ments that use the ad­vanced anal­y­sis tech­nol­ogy of qpcr (quan­ti­ta­tive poly­merase chain reaction) to am­plify GM mark­ers in a food prod­uct to de­tect their presence (see ‘Chas­ing GM mark­ers’ p38).

“We had a hunch that GM food is find­ing its way onto our din­ner plate in ways more than we know. There have been me­dia re­ports about il­le­gal GM seeds be­ing avail­able across the coun­try and crops be­ing grown,” says Chan­dra Bhushan, deputy di­rec­tor gen­eral of cse who led the re­search. “But we did not know the na­ture of in­gre­di­ents used in pack­aged snacks and oils im­ported into the coun­try. Since most such prod­ucts are based on known GM crops like corn, soy­abean and rape­seed, we de­cided to do a re­al­ity check,” he adds.

The ev­i­dence of GM in­gre­di­ents was found in 32 per cent of the 65 prod­ucts tested. Al­most 80 per cent of these are im­ported. All the 16 im­ported prod­ucts that

cse found GM-pos­i­tive were from usa, Canada, the Nether­lands, Thai­land and the

uae. usa and Canada are the lead­ing coun­tries grow­ing GM crops and pro­duc­ing GM food prod­ucts. Though the re­main­ing do not al­low com­mer­cial cul­ti­va­tion of GM crops, their food pro­cess­ing units heav­ily rely on raw material im­ported from usa and Canada. Hud­son canola oil im­ported from the uae says on its la­bel that it is “ex­tracted from Cana­dian oilseeds”.

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