“I am not the right person to talk about the subject. I am not competent to speak on the subject,” insisted a core member of the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) when I questioned him on his stance on labelling foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs). He was only a member representing a ministry that should be voicing its opinion on whether foods containing GMOs should be labelled or not.

From the time they have been introduced, GMOs have been under much flak for environmental and health concerns. The most recent being Dr Lou Gallagher's study, which highlights the toxicity of Bt brinjal. Understanding this, several countries in the European Union have framed the most stringent laws on foods containing GMOs. The EU countries have zero tolerance for GM foods. Food imported into EU countries has to be labelled as GMO-free. Over one million people are now agitating asking for a complete GM-freeze across the EU. The Gulf countries also have a similar policy when it comes to GM food.  

Bt brinjalThe decision for the commercial release of Bt brinjal was met with widespread opposition in India. Even after the moratorium on its release, the FSSAI has not come up with a concrete policy for labelling GM foods.

Knowing all this sickens me to think that the FSSAI does more to safeguard the interests of corporates than the consumers. The FSSAI has the powers to make laws in this regard. The authority should be setting the highest standards and taking every step to ensure that the food consumed by the people is safe.

Instead of pinning down corporations – national or international, the FSSAI continues to dodge the issue. Even after Bt brinjal, the first GM food to be introduced in India was put on a moratorium last year due to lack of evidence about its safety in the long run among other things, the authority has not taken concrete steps to put into place labelling laws on GMOs. They clearly seem to have no intention of doing so in the future. The FSSAI has already drafted the Food Safety and Standards Rules 2011 notified in Gazette of India which does not mention GM foods.

Meanwhile, imports of foods containing GMOs continue to penetrate our borders, and the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee continues to approve field trials for various crops, increasing the scope of the contamination of our food by way of pollination. While all this is on, we continue to remain in the dark.