gm crops

Since 2007, Centre has allowed import of GM edible oil, violating food safety laws

The importers of GM soyabean and canola oils in India include multinational GM seed companies such as Monsanto and Bayer.

Last week, the Union government admitted in Parliament that genetically modified edible oil is being illegally imported in India, without the mandatory assessment of its safety for human consumption. It disclosed for the first time that between 2007 and 2015 it allowed at least four companies to import edible oil made from genetically-modified crops, in violation of India’s food safety law.

Despite food safety regulations putting the Union government in charge of regulating the safety of imported food, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has passed the buck on to the states to ensure that these oils do not reach consumers.

Union Health Minister JP Nadda told Parliament on December 29 that various companies have been importing genetically modified soyabean and canola oil for consumption in India since 2007 after receiving permission from the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, which regulates genetically modified crops for their environmental impacts. The minister admitted, however, that these imports did not have permission from the Health Ministry’s Food Safety and Standards Authority of India, the apex body tasked to regulate food to ensure that it is safe for human consumption

Nadda was responding to a question raised by the leader of Congress in the Lok Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge.

Genetically modified crops, or GM crops as they are commonly known, are cultivated from seeds that are genetically altered to increase yields or tolerance to pests. Supporters say GM crops are essential to boost food production to meet the demands of the planet’s ever-expanding population. But in India and many other parts of the world, there is a debate about whether GM crops are safe for human consumption. Some scientists also fear that biodiversity will be threatened if genetic material from GM crops get mixed in with non-GM crops.

Many countries, including European Union nations, Australia and China, have strict regulations requiring GM foods to be clearly labelled so that consumers can make informed choices about whether to eat them.

Breaching the law

Scroll.in had, in October, first published a report about how the Centre had allowed the illegal import of more than 15 million tonnes of genetically modified soyabean and canola oils for human consumption over the past five years. At that time, the food safety authority had claimed that it was unable to stop the illegal import of GM edible oils because it did not have the technology to detect GM content in these oils.

The import of GM food into India needs to be approved under two separate laws. While the environment ministry is required to assess the environmental impacts of such food under the Environment Protection Act of 1986, the Food Safety and Standards Authority is required to assess the food for their impact on health under the Food Safety and Standards Act of 2006.

According to the Food Safety and Standards Act, no genetically modified food can be sold in India unless the government frames regulations to govern such food to ensure that it is safe for human consumption. The government has not finalised these regulations yet. Because of this, the import and sale of GM food continues to be banned in the country, the food safety authority had stated before the Supreme Court in August.

The importers of GM soyabean and canola oils in India include multinational GM seed companies such as Monsanto Holdings Private Limited and Bayer Bio Sciences Private Limited.

In Parliament, Nadda listed at least seven cases where the environment ministry alone gave permission for the import of GM oils between 2007 and 2015, with clearance from the Food Safety and Standards Authority being bypassed.

In response to Kharge’s question on actions taken by the government to stop the sale of GM foods illegally in India, the health minister washed his hands of the matter.

Nadda said in Parliament:

“Enforcement of the provisions of the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 , Rules and Regulations made thereunder, primarily rests with the State/UT Governments... directions have been issued by Food Safety and Standards Authority of India to State/UT Governments from time to time for taking steps for implementation and enforcement of the FSS Act, Rules and Regulations made thereunder.”

But, under the food safety law, the Food Safety and Standards Authority and its officers posted at ports and other points of import are in charge of ensuring that no illegal consignments of food enter the country. In 2016, the apex food regulatory authority and the Union health ministry also did away with the need for specialised food safety experts to inspect imported food consignments at India’s ports, handing over the responsibility to unqualified customs authorities instead.

Corrections and clarifications: This article was earlier published under the headline, Centre admits in Parliament that it allowed import of GM edible oil in violation of food safety law”.

Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

Play

This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.