‘Fancy’ products of foreign brands — such as pan-cake syrups, multigrain cereal, corn puffs, canola and cotton-seed oil, and silken tofu — available in attractive packages at supermarkets, may not be fully forthcoming in their labels on genetically modified (GM) ingredients.

GM foods, though not allowed in India, are flooding supermarkets, says a new study by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE). In fact, some of them falsely declare that they are GM free.

Researchers from CSE randomly tested 65 food samples in Gujarat, Punjab and Delhi-NCR. They found that 21 samples (32 per cent) were GM positive. Of the samples, 30 were manufactured in India; of these, just five, or 17 per cent, were GM positive. Among the 35 imported samples — manufactured in Canada, the UAE, the US, the Netherlands and Thailand — 16, or 46 per cent, were GM positive, said the study.

“Domestically manufactured cottonseed oil samples tested GM positive, but no GM positive packaged oil sample mentioned GM ingredients on its label,” said CSE Deputy Director General Indu Bhushan.

India allows cultivation of only genetically modified Bt cotton. The cottonseed oil extracted from it will be GM positive, too.

The government has chosen to turn a blind eye to the issue, Bhushan said, citing Section 22 of the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 which says GM foods are not allowed to be manufactured, imported or sold in India unless approved under the Act.

Poor enforcement

However, enforcement is poor. “Most GM foods in the study did not disclose GM on their labels and 15 per cent made false claims saying they were GM-free,” said Sunita Narain, CSE’s Director General.

There is a long-standing debate on whether GM foods are harmful or not, but that notwithstanding, a consumer should be able to make an informed choice, she said.

What was alarming was that two of the eight infant food samples, imported from the US and the Netherlands, were GM positive, but the labels did not disclose this.

“The top US-based pharma company that manufactures these infant formulas sells both GM and non-GM formulas in US supermarkets and makes necessary disclosures; then why not in India?” asked Narain.

FSSAI responds p18