A study has found that genetically-modified processed food products, including infant food, are being sold widely in the country illegally. Production, sale and import of genetically-modified food is banned in the country without the approval of the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India.

The Centre for Science and Environment, a Delhi-based think tank, conducted the study and found that 31% of 65 randomly-selected samples tested positive under the genetically-modified category. The samples included both imported and domestic products.

According to the study, 80% of the samples that were found to be GM-positive were imported. It added that other than edible oil, no other processed food manufactured in India was found to be GM-positive. It also found that infant products like lactose-free infant milk substitute and hypoallergenic infant formula by American healthcare company Abbott Laboratories were tested positive.

“We had been hearing about the presence of illegal GM food in India, and decided to do a reality check by testing processed foods,” deputy director general of CSE, Chandra Bhushan, said. “We were shocked to know the scale in which GM foods have penetrated the Indian market. The regulatory authorities are to blame here – the FSSAI has not allowed any GM food on paper, but has failed to curb its illegal sales.”

Five samples of cottonseed oil from India were also found to be genetically-modified. Bhushan said no permission has been given to the companies for the use of GM cottonseed oil for human consumption.

“Our government says it has not allowed the import of GM food products,” CCSE Director General Sunita Narain said. “Then how is this happening? We have found that laws are not the problem – the regulatory agencies are.”

According to the FSSAI, any food that has 5% or more GM ingredient should be labelled. “A large number of countries including Japan, Canada, Thailand and Indonesia prescribe a threshold value of 5 per cent by weight,” FSSAI said in a statement. “However, it may be pointed out that the cost of demonstrating or verifying compliance to the specified threshold increases as the threshold level decreases. It may also be kept in mind that irrespective of the threshold level, the safety of all GM products need to be well established and proven to be as safe as non-GM products.”

It also added that work on framing regulations on GM food was under way.