GM foods need to be regulated to give consumers nutrition facts, not fiction
Genetically-modified (GM) processed foods are being sold and traded in India without government approval, according to the Delhi-based green NGO, Centre of Science and Environment (CSE).Updated: Jul 28, 2018 22:22 IST
In the absence of regulation, genetically-modified processed foods are being sold and traded in India without government approval, according to the Delhi-based green NGO, Centre of Science and Environment (CSE). Twenty-one of the 65 popular food brands, including infant formula for lactose-intolerant babies, were GM positive, found CSE, after testing products for corn, soya, rapeseed and cotton (seeds), which are among the most common GM crops around in the world.
GM foods cannot be manufactured, imported or sold in India, according to the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) that is charged with ensuring food safety. “FSSAI has also informed that no such standards for Genetically Modified foods have been laid down/notified. However, even in the absence of specific standards for Genetically Modified (GM) foods, as per Section 22 of Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, GM foods are not allowed to be manufactured, imported or sold in the country, health minister JP Nadda informed the Lok Sabha on February 9 in a written reply.
FSSAI’s new draft Food Safety and Standards (Labelling and Display) Regulations, 2018, attempt to address the many gaps, including an amendment in 2013 to the Legal Metrology (Packaged Commodities) Rules that mandate that packages containing genetically modified foods print the words ‘GM’ on their principal display panel. “This rule was inconsistent with the fact that GM foods are not allowed in India and in fact created the false perception that GM food was allowed,” said CSE’s Genetically Modified Processed Foods in India report, which found labels of only five samples said GM ingredients were used, while three of five brands labelled ‘GM free’ were GM positive.
Changing lifestyles and increasing incomes are projected to make India’s food packaging industry worth more than $65 billion by 2020, making it the third biggest markets for packaged food market after China and the US, according to the market research company, Euromonitor International.
To regulate this behemoth, improved nutrition labelling, restrictions on marketing (for example, a ban on advertising and promoting junk food to children), and targeted taxation on high sugar, salt and fat products must be made public health priorities to lower diet-related chronic diseases including obesity, diabetes, heart disease and kidney disease.
With the FSSAI’s draft food labelling regulation is expected to take at least a year to get operational — six months to be finalised and six months for industry compliance — the food regulator has urged packaged food majors to voluntarily reformulate their products to reduce salt, sugar and fat levels before the new labelling regulations are implemented. Companies including HUL, Nestle India, Baggry’s, Britannia, MTR, Patanjali, Halidram , ITC, Kellogg’s, Kraft Heinz India, Bikano, MTR, FieldFresh Foods (Del Monte), Marico and Weikfield have committed to lower unhealthy content, but FSSAI needs to go ahead with strong labelling regulation to ensure false claims and misleading omissions do not occur.
Globally, governments are pushing for more transparency in labelling. Food majors with US$10 million or more in annual food sales will have to use the US Food and Drug Administration’s updated nutrition information on product labels by January 1, 2020, and smaller companies by 2021. The updated nutrition fact labels have better displayed calorie counts, updated percentage daily intake values, reported of added sugar content and realistic serving size sizes. Despite opposition from vested industry groups, the US FDA has made it mandatory for chain restaurants to print the calorie counts of dishes on menus from May 7.
Europe is promoting front-of-pack labelling and colour-coded ratings based on levels of fat, saturated fat, sugar, and salt to give the nutritional value at a glance. France has been using a colour-coded front-of-pack label called Nutri-Score since late 2017, while the UK has traffic-light labelling since 2013, but both systems are voluntary, not mandatory.
India, too, needs robust regulation to ensure manufacturers reformulate to make existing products healthier and strong labelling standards to guide consumers make healthier choices.
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