ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

Date:  1 December 2000


Two articles from the Indian press, one from a few months back and one from yesterday on the lack of control over US GM contaminated imports. Should be read in conjunction with Hugh Warwick's article:  INDIAN FARMERS JUDGE GM CROPS

Ironically of course, US consumers are hardly in a better position when it comes to unwanted, unlabelled GM contaminants in food.

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Turning a blind eye to GM food arrivals
Hindu Business Line
G. Chandrashekhar
MUMBAI, June 15 [shortened]

IN an incident that some had suspected to be happening, food aid received for the Orissa cyclone victims has been found to contain genetically modified (GM) corn (maize) and soya, in spite of the fact that Indian laws do not permit the import of transgenic food.

The startling disclosure by a non-governmental organisation that had the food samples tested and found to contain GM material has apparently caused embarrassment in official circles. In response to this, the Director-General of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) has said the disclosure would be looked into and truth brought out.

The statement of the ICAR chief would have to be taken with some amount of scepticism, if not as bizarre humour. It does not need a genius to realise that food aid is one of the covert methods of popularising genetically modified products by making poor people who are in dire need of food consume them, often without their knowledge.
*  *  *
Government parries vital question on GM food import
Hindu Business Line
G. Chandrashekhar
MUMBAI, Nov. 30

DID the Government speak the whole truth and place all relevant facts on the table of the House when the Minister of State in the Ministry of Science andTechnology, Mr Bachi Singh Rawat, answered a question relating to genetically modified foods in the Lok Sabha on November 28?

No, unfortunately, going by the perfunctory and blatantly incomplete reply to the question whether the Government has taken steps to protect consumers' rights and interests with regard to safe food and whether consumers are being informed about the ill-effects of genetically modified foods on their lives and choices.

The Minister's answer was: "Yes, bio-safety guidelines in India are exhaustive and adequate to assess the risks, if any, from the use of genetically modified (GM) foods. No GM food has yet been released to the consumers. Before releasing any GM food, biosafety assessment including safety of food to human and animal health is mandatory under the Indian Environment (Protection)
Act. As and when GM foods would be ready for commercialisation, consumers would be fully informed. Work has been initiated to finalise a set of guidelines for this''.

The Minister, obviously, was referring to the consumption of `genetically modified foods *produced domestically* (emphasis added). It is common knowledge that the country has not yet started to produce GM foods. But not many are aware that large quantities of genetically
modified products have already started to enter the country in the wake of the liberal import policy, indifferent clearance procedures and antiquated testing facilities at various ports which are ill-equipped to identify GM food products.

It is most unfortunate that the Government failed to disclose vital facts relating to possible import and consumption of genetically modified foods in this country. One example that readily comes to mind is corn (maize). Import of maize into the country is allowed under actual user condition for use in the manufacture of poultry or animal feed, in order to meet the expanding domestic demand.

One of the origins from where corn imports into the country take place is the US. Out of  approximately two lakh tonnes maize that arrived last year, about 40 per cent was the US origin corn. The US is the world's largest producer and exporter of genetically modified corn.

Interestingly, the origin neither segregates transgenic and non-transgenic corn, nor there is a system of labelling. Both GM and non-GM corn get mixed in the marketplace, whether for domestic consumption or for export.

It is no secret that a large part of corn imported into the country ostensibly for animal feed is unauthorisedly diverted for human consumption. Imported maize finds its way into the human food chain rather easily as the Government lacks adequate and effective policing facilities. Indian
consumers of maize are blissfully unaware of what they are eating, nor does the Government care to tell them.

The other commodity widely consumed is soyabean oil. The US, again, is the world's largest producer of transgenic soyabean and like corn, there is no segregation of GM and non-GM soyabeans. Soyabean oil of US origin would invariably be crushed out of a mixture of genetically engineered and conventionally grown soyabean.

Thus, at least a part of imported soyabean oil is GM material. So is the case with cotton. In 1999-2000, the country imported nearly 22 lakh bales of cotton, a part of which could have been from the plantings of Bt cotton seed. However, no testing for GM traits is being carried out at the
ports of entry for any of these agricultural commodities that are known to be products of genetic engineering.

Even in a food aid received for the Orissa cyclone victims, a non-Government organisation sampled the consignment and found genetically modified corn and soya mixture. The Government unfortunately did not pay heed to the complaint. Surely, it cannot be the case that the Union Government is unaware of the position that transgenic food products are surreptitiously entering the country. There is a suspicion that the concerned ministries are deliberately ignoring the serious issue
despite a number of media reports.

Senior Government officials admit in private conversation that the Government does not have the requisite machinery to inspect food imports for GM traits. Our ports, customs houses and plant quarantine authorities are ill-equipped to identify the import of food consignments that contain GM material.

Scientists this correspondent spoke to said there was a good deal of confusion in the Government circles as to who should monitor such imports and the method of testing. They also did not rule out the possibility of overt and covert pressure on the policy makers to turn a blind eye to the import of GM foods.


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