Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) is facing public criticism for drawing up plans to assess and approve the use of genetically modified organism (GMOs), genetically engineered organisms (GEOs) or living modified organisms (LMOs) as food or as raw material for processed food items.

The draft “Food Safety and Standards (Genetically Modified or Engineered Foods) Regulations, 2021” aims to ensure that no person manufactures, stores, distributes, sells or imports any food or food ingredient derived from genetically modified organisms without FSSAI’s approval. It also proposes that all food items that contain 1% GM ingredient or more will have to declare it on the food label itself.

Opposing the FSSAI move, RSS affiliate Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM) says the authority is overstepping its jurisdiction by drafting regulations for GMOs, and wants the draft regulation to be withdrawn. Coalition for a GM-Free India—a loose, informal network of organizations and individuals that campaigns and advocates against the use of GM products—wants FSSAI to extend the deadline for feedback on the draft beyond its February 5, 2022 deadline and revise it sharply.

In a letter to FSSAI on January 15, SJM said a 14-year-old notification from the Ministry of Environment only allowed the authority to regulate the safety of foodstuffs and not living modified organisms and live GMOs. “You do not have the power or authority to deal with exports and imports of GMOs. You are an authority under the Ministry of Health whose mandate is to protect the health of the Indian people. By promoting GMO industrial food FSSAI is causing double harm to public health, first by allowing GMOs in our food, and also promoting industrial processing”, says Ashwani Mahajan, national co-convenor, SJM.

According to SJM, FSSAI is not setting up a safety assessment regime in India in the draft regulation. “It is planning to accept approvals given elsewhere, and is also going to accept data from elsewhere. This is clearly unacceptable. On what basis will decisions be taken if safety assessment is not done in a manner suitable to India's food cultures and its consumption and cultivation conditions and its pre-existing health and malnutrition conditions?” Mahajan asks.

Stating that FSSAI's draft is designed to create markets for the global GMO and processed food industry at the cost of public health, SJM calls for the withdrawal of the notification.

Meanwhile, the coalition of anti-GM activists says the time given public feedback on the draft regulation is insufficient and insignificant. “We object to the fact that the regulator is ignoring what citizens are legitimately demanding for. Citizens want to engage with these regulations being proposed by FSSAI, since there is a wide demand from people of India who want to keep their food GM-free. That is why they want the local language versions of the draft regulations, and also are seeking consultations to be organised by the regulator. It does not appear that FSSAI is really serious in responding to citizens' demand for safe food,” says the Coalition for a GM-Free India.

Social activist Kavitha Kuruganti, who represents the coalition, says more than 300 organisations and professionals have responded to their call to oppose the draft regulation. The groups have also triggered some 5000 tweets tagged to FSSAI’s Twitter handle demanding extension of time for public feedback. The coalition wants FSSAI to drastically revise the draft regulations to ensure that GM foods are kept out from our food chain.

Online petitions to FSSAI are still gathering thousands of signatures—pointing out to deep deficiencies in the way FSSAI is approaching the matter of a hazardous category of food, despite being the food safety regulator of the country, the anti-GM coalition states. "We urge the Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya to intervene in this matter, and not leave this issue of great importance to only the regulatory body FSSAI, which has already failed citizens several times on this front,” the Coalition has said in a press statement.

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