Coalition for a GM-Free India, which is a platform for organizations and individuals who represent consumers and farmers, as well as experts and activists, has expressed its displeasure and worry regarding the Indian Food Safety Authority’s (FSSAI) proposal regulations pertaining to Genetically altered (GM) foods. They claimed that the rules did not take into account the interests of citizens in favor of commercial interests.

In a letter sent in a letter addressed to the chief executive officer of FSSAI on January 18, The coalition stated that not one item from their earlier responses was included. However, “numerous industry inputs have made it to FSSAI’s updated draft regulations, whether it be on removing processed food, excluding processing aid or excluding a couple of categories of genome editing from the scope,” The group added.

The platform also had industry members be able to access and make comments on the regulations’ draft prior to publication, as participants of the forum wrote.

Earlier, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-affiliate Swadeshi Jagran Manch had also voiced their concerns over the regulations, saying that this could pave the way for easier entry of transgenic foods into the country.

In the draft of the regulation published on November 18, FSSAI had suggested requiring préalable approval by the regulatory body before it could produce, sell, or import ingredients or food products by genetically modified Organisms (GMOs).

In addition to the above, all GMO food items that contain one percent or more of the GM ingredient are analyzed individually and labeled with the words “contains genetically modified organisms.” The Authority has mandated this.

In response, the letter suggested that the labeling requirement must begin by setting the threshold to 0.01 percent “when the detection mechanism is able to provide this at 0.01 per cent threshold”.

The unique conditions of consumption in India and current health / underfood conditions must govern the issue of labeling. Labeling isn’t a simple solution to consumer’s right to make educated choices, as a section of experts argued.

Coalition for a GM-Free India highlighted:

Labeling and labeling are not solutions that well to Indian circumstances of eating where the majority of our food products aren’t packaged or labeled, and most people don’t have the ability to read and comprehend the labels.

FSSAI’s affidavit to the Supreme Court of India of May 2017 also acknowledges problems with labeling, the organization said in its letter.

FSSAI had extended the date of consultation with the public regarding draft regulations for GM food products until January 20, 2023, a change from the original date of January 15.

The coalition pointed out the flaws in the regulations’ draft. The coalition pointed out that there was no requirement for a comprehensive, long-term, and independent testing system. In addition, it doesn’t include provisions for independent analysis of data and public review.

The report also urged authorities for the safety of food to conduct a need-and-alternative evaluation. The final approval of GMO food products must be based on an assessment of requirements and alternatives to safe ingredients and foods that be used in the same way in the same way as GM ingredients or food items being considered, the report said.

Additionally, the regulations ignore GM feed, despite the fact that GM feed is also a threat to the security of the human food chain. “FSSAI in the past has not hesitated to issue regulations with regard to some aspects of animal feed, and GM feed should be part of the current regulations,” the letter reads.

A further important aspect that was highlighted by the letter is the period that the approval needs to be granted. The approval must be granted for a specific time frame of one year at first and not exceeding three years “as regulatory science is constantly co-evolving and all applications need to be reviewed automatically in the light of evolution of scientific methods and evidence”.

The regulations in the draft only pertain to the food authorities deciding on applications. This isn’t possible since the Authority does not meet regularly enough or has biosafety experts. This is something the coalition also noted.

“The Authority also does not have Environment Ministry representatives, and coordination with the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee will be difficult in this situation,” the Authority wrote in its letter.

The Authority is, as per the Food Safety and Standards Act 2006, is not obligated to issue routine approval to regulatory applications, they highlighted. “The regulations have to specify which body in FSSAI would be taking decisions on applications received.”

The letter also called for creation of the GM Foods and Feed Safety Appraisal Committee composed of experts in biosafety who are not regulated by the FDA.