Imports of GM edible oil sans proper labelling spark fresh controversy

With the debate over genetically-modified (GM) crops raging in recent times with regard to the commercialisation of GM mustard, questions were also raised about the quality and origin of GM mustard oil, an imported edible oil.

India, the largest importer of edible oil, has reportedly imported upto 15 million tonne of GM crops or GM crop-based edible oil.

The story of GM crops in India has always been on par with bio-safety norms, hasty approvals, labelling concerns, the lack of monitoring abilities and a general apathy towards the hazards of contamination.

Although such imports are illegal, the importers manage to import due to the lack of labelling norms for such products. Although the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, has, under Section 22, mentioned that GM products cannot be sold without its approval, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) still has to draft labelling norms for these products. 

According to a senior official with the country’s apex food regulator, work on the labelling norms is underway, and soon it would put out a draft for the same.

“And the importers usually give reasoning that the traceability of the GM protein is not in the refined oil, therefore it is as good as non-GM crop-based edible oil,” he added.

However, to get the GM mustard crop commercialised has been a tough task. If it gets approved, it will become India’s first officially-approved GM food crop. Even though the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) has given its nod, the union government has put the decision on hold.

Despite the ban on GM crops, various cases have been reported between 2005 and now wherein illegally-produced GM crops are being sold to farmers in the country, and of illegal imports, which had been brought to light by FSSAI, which demanded either a ban or a clear indication on the labels of GM crops. Based on the regulator’s submissions, the court accepted that imports of GM foods continue to be banned.

Experts working on the GM crops have supported the production of the same by throwing light on the benefit they have in boosting food production to meet the demands of the growing population. Where India is yet to finalise its labelling norms, over 60 countries, including members of the European Union (EU), China and Australia, have strict regulations regarding the labelling of products that either contain or are made from GM crops.

There has been constant debates in India and around the world about whether GM crops are safe for human consumption. A few fear biodiversity getting threatened due to the mixing of genetic material of GM crops with that of non-GM crops. Thus, in the midst of this debate, the government has been importing processed soybean and Canola oil made from GM crops. In April 2017, GEAC took a note of the void in the import scenario and held meetings with FSSAI.

The import of GM foods needs approval under laws (i e clearances from the ministry of environment, forest and climate change under the Environment Protection Act, 1986, which assess the impact of GM products on biodiversity, and the health and family welfare ministry, which endorse that  GM products are safe for human consumption under the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006).

It is pertinent to note here that for years, the imports of GM crops have been taking place without the clearance from the food safety authorities.


Doctors push for salt content in labels – Revised food labels on cards

CHENNAI: In two weeks, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) is planning to put out a draft of the revised food labels, which will include sodium along with other nutritional facts such as carbohydrates, fats, and sugar, FSSAI scientist Anitha Makhijani said at a conference in the city on Friday.
She expected to see smiling faces and hear an applause from senior doctors, scientists and public health experts, who were lobbying for stringent rules that force food manufacturers to reduce salt in their products. But most of them expressed discontent. “It should be salt and not sodium,” argued UK-based Dr Graham Macgregor, professor of cardiovascular medicine at the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine. Macgregor has campaigned for regulations for low salt food in countries like the UK, Canada, and Australia.
Until now, FSSAI has said packaged foods can volunteer to display nutritional facts. A few products that list salt usually report it as sodium per 100g. Sodium in food must be multiplied by 2.4 to get the salt in it. “Britain had sodium on food labels more than two decades ago. They changed it to salt because no one knew what they were eating,” he said.
Legislations in the UK have been able to bring down average daily salt intake by citizens from 11g to 9g in the past decade. “There is a 40% reduction and most people did not know that their food has lesser salt. But we have seen a 25% reduction in health spending due to high blood pressure and its complications,” he said.
At a conference organised by the Sapiens Foundation and scientists from Indian Institute of Technology Madras, experts brainstormed strategies for action against salt with officials of FSSAI, experts from WHO and other international experts. Studies show Indians consume up to 10.98g of salt every day against the WHO recommendation of 5g. High intake of salt can increase blood pressure and cause stroke and diseases of the heart and kidney.
Makhijani said the FSSAI will consider making modifications to the rules. “As of now, declaration of nutritional facts are not mandatory. Rules will have to be amended for that,” he said. Chief nephrologist at Sapiens Foundation Dr Rajan Ravichandran said the aim is to reduce salt intake by at least 2g in the next five years. “We want all food products to list the amount of table salt, besides preservatives like sodium bicarbonate. If the product uses above the prescribed level, it should be labelled red and those below should be labelled green,” he said.
WHO deputy director Soumya Swaminathan said research on salt will help organisations like the Indian Council of Medical Research push for policies that will help the country bring down the incidence of non-communicable diseases. “It’s the need of the hour,” she said.

Mark dairy products with ‘ Non Veg’ – PETA to FSSAI

No animal cruelty: PETA members promote veganism in New Delhi. 
Animal rights organisation asks for food packaging and labelling regulations to be suitably amended
Mumbai: In a bid to make choosing packaged food easier for vegans, the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has requested the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) to amend regulations to introduce the brown dot for milk and milk products. At present, vegetarian products are marked with a green dot, while non-vegetarian ones display a brown dot on their packaging.
Dr. Manilal Valliyate, CEO, PETA has written to FSSAI chief P.K. Agarwal, outlining reasons for the request. His letter said the production of dairy foods commonly involves violence, such as eventual slaughter, separating calves from their mothers, and other forms of cruelty. It said India’s beef industry exists because of the dairy industry. “Ethical vegetarians who want to refrain from supporting the beef industry and cruelty to animals are being duped, because they commonly believe that a ‘green dot’ designates products not involving animal suffering or the slaughter of cattle.”
Urging for the Food Safety and Standards (Packaging and Labelling) Regulations 2011 to be amended to introduce the brown dot in packaging, PETA said cattle aren’t raised solely for beef, so the dairy industry is the primary supplier of cattle to the beef industry, especially for export.
Dr. Valliyate also said since all dairy products are derived from animals, the amount of cholesterol in them is high and could lead to heart diseases. “It’s important to differentiate animal and plant-based products,” he said, adding 75% of the global population, including three out of four Indians, can’t digest dairy products properly.
It is mandatory for food manufacturers to indicate if the food item contains non-vegetarian ingredients. Some products, like carbonated water and milk, are exempt from this provision, so these markings are not required on these products.

Separate norms on the cards for food packaging

NEW DELHI: India’s food regulator will soon set new norms for pouches, foil containers, bottles and boxes that are used to package food and beverages to address concerns over contamination arising from sub-standard material and the printing on them. “There will be separate regulations for packaging, for which draft regulations will be out soon,” said Pawan Kumar Agarwal, chief executive of the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India. 
The new standards are intended to make food companies more accountable. Current norms, adopted from Bureau of Indian Standards, focus more on labelling than on packaging. The regulator now plans to frame its own set of benchmarks to ensure that all packaging used in food and drinks is safe and can be monitored. 
India’s food packaging market is estimated to reach $18 billion in 2020 from $12 billion in 2016, led by fruits and vegetables. Apart from convenience, packaging helps to reduce food wastage by enhancing their shelf life. According to the present norms, aluminium, copper, brass, plastic and tin can be used for packaging and should conform to Indian Standards specifications. Containers that are rusty, chipped or perforated are deemed unfit. 
The re-use of tin and plastic containers is disallowed, especially for packaging edible oil and fat and there are specific rules for packaging of products such as milk, milk products, edible oil, fruits and vegetables, canned meat and drinking water. The new guidelines will be based on a study conducted by the FSSAI and the Indian Institute of Packaging, an autonomous body operating under the Ministry of Commerce & Industry, on the quality of food packaging material manufactured in the country. The study was commissioned because the regulator was of the view that there is a growing need to assess whether chemicals in food packaging pose health and safety risks and whether current regulations adequately manage them. “During the study, we found that 100% of the samples did not pass the tests. In some samples, the colour was coming out of the packaging material. We have submitted the report to FSSAI,” said NC Saha, director of the Indian Institute of Packaging in Mumbai. Food packaging material is also a source of heavy metals such as arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury and selenium, which may contaminate packaged food and pose a hazard in higher quantities, he added. “We are fully committed to complying with these new packaging norms once they are implemented,” said a spokesperson for Nestlé India. 
“We have in place strict food quality and packaging norms, including quality checks at the different stages of our manufacturing process.” As part of the study, samples were tested from the organised and unorganised food sectors in New Delhi, Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Goa, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu for transfer of chemical contaminants into foods. Also checked were the level of heavy metals in plastics used in packaging of food, pharmaceuticals and drinking water.

FSSAI expedites work on new packaging, labeling claims and advertising norms

The Food Safety Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has expedited its work on the new packaging, labelling and claims and advertisement regulations, and is expected to release the drafts a couple of months from now. There would be separate regulations for the three subjects.

Recently, the country’s apex food regulator held a meeting, at which the provisions for the said three regulations were discussed.

Divided into 3 parts
Pawan Kumar Agarwal, chief executive officer, FSSAI, said, “FSSAI is reviving the existing Food Safety Standards (Packaging and Labelling) Regulations, 2011, and decided that the same would be divided into three parts, namely regulations pertaining to packaging, labelling and advertisement and claims.”

He added, “All the three areas are vital. Earlier, there was a single regulation for all three subjects, and we were using the standards laid down by the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) for the packaging subject.”

“A lot needs to be done in this regard. We held talks with the stakeholders of various sectors, including the packaging industry, food industry and others, and received their inputs. We will compile them to make a draft for the stakeholders’ consultation soon,” Agarwal said.

He added, “Earlier, there was a joint mechanism for packaging and labelling aspects, and virtually no regulations for claims and advertisement. Since all three aspects are important, there will be separate regulations for these subjects. On labelling, the work has been completed. But on the packaging front, regulations are weak, and consultations are underway.”

According to FSSAI, the new norms would be finalised on the basis of recommendations from the expert group and stakeholders.

The proposed packaging regulations will cover most of the packaging materials that come in contact with food. Thee include aluminium foil, laminates, aluminium sheets used for cans, plastics, glass, paper, tin, etc.

It also addressed the principal material, printing and pigments and colorants that may come in contact with foodstuff directly or indirectly.

“The regulations included a suggestive list of packaging materials for different categories,” said an official privy to the development.

The old standards only give preference to the packing and labelling norms. Those were Indian standards, in which there were specific requirements for certain commodities like milk, fruits, vegetable products, edible oil, etc.

Meanwhile, these new regulations will take a while to come out, as there is a process involved in its finalisation. They will go through scientific panels, the expert group and consultations with the stakeholders, including the industry, and legal vetting.

Packaged foods float salt norms

Labelling of GM foods likely to be mandatory

The recommendation was made to the ministry by a scientific panel on GM organisms in food that was formed as per the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) Act
The Department of Health and Family Welfare is moving towards a regime to make the labelling of GM foods mandatory and declaring the threshold level of the genetically engineered ingredient on GM products, its Secretary informed the parliamentary panel on climate, forest, science and technology. The recommendation was made to the ministry by a scientific panel on GM organisms in food that was formed as per the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) Act.
The panel also informed that the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) is collecting evidence on the impact of GM food on humans and that ICMR is soon going to provide leads to the Health ministry. DNA was the first to report in June that, in the absence of any regulatory mechanism, FSSAI was working on a labelling regime to monitor and make consumers aware of GM products in market.
“Any product which has 5 per cent or more of the genetically engineered ingredient shall be labelled. This has gone to their panel and to the authority which will take a view on this and we hope to get a decision on the labelling aspect very soon,” secretary of the Department of Health said.