National Safe Food Day being celebrated throughout the country, on 3rd anniversary of Bt brinjal moratorium

Download the letter 130209 TRANSGENIC CROPS & FOOD SECURITY

(Please read this press release of the Coalition along with this letter :

New Delhi, February 9th 2013: On the 3rd anniversary of a moratorium on Bt brinjal in India, in a letter to the Minister for Environment & Forests (MoEF), more than 150 scientists from across the country pointed out that food security arguments around GM crops are baseless and fallacious, both from the scientific and global experience point of view. These scientists expressed disappointment that the MoEF, responsible for regulation of transgenics, allowed the Ministry of Agriculture to step into the Supreme Court PIL on GMOs on behalf of the Union of India. In their letter, they pointed out that Food Safety is an integral part of Food Security. Earlier in November 2012, the Ministry of Agriculture had argued in the SC that transgenic crops are essential for food security and that India’s transgenic regulatory regime was sound and robust.

The third anniversary of the moratorium on Bt brinjal, being marked as the National Safe Food Day, is witnessing dozens of events and activities around the country. Three years ago, Jairam Ramesh, the then MoEF placed an indefinite moratorium on Bt brinjal stating that as being “responsible to science and responsive to society”.


“We urge Ms Jayanti Natarajan, Minister for Environment & Forests, to show the scientificity and independence that her predecessor showed in placing a moratorium on what would have been India’s first GM food crop, Bt brinjal. In fact, the situation on the regulatory front is worse than it was thought to be during the time the nation-wide public consultations led to the moratorium in 2010. The Bt brinjal moratorium decision has set a good precedence in terms of a precautionary approach. The debate then raised questions around capabilities of biosafety review in an independent and scientific manner, apart from the need for long term independent testing.

It also highlighted the much-required element of needs assessment and assessment of alternatives, before going in for the GM option, which is absent in the current system. This has been pointed out time and again, starting with the Task Force on Agricultural Biotechnology, headed by Dr M S Swaminathan in 2003, the report of which was formally accepted by Govt of India in 2004. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture in its report tabled in August 2012, has captured the various nuances to the issue of transgenic food crops in great detail and had asked for a biosafety law to be brought in (instead of the BRAI Bill). The Prime Minister’s Scientific Advisory Council (PM-SAC), listing the key characteristics of an effective regulatory system highlighted the need for sound scientific expertise within the (regulatory) organisation, through independent panels, as well as processes that ensure transparency and freedom from conflict. The Sopory Committee, commissioned by the Ministry of Agriculture, had pointed out serious and objectionable issues with regard to our transgenic research and regulation, where crores of rupees of taxpayers’ funds have been expended. It also confirmed GM contamination. The Technical Expert Committee of the Supreme Court (SC TEC) also made recommendations on similar lines. It is no coincidence that so many inquiry processes are saying similar things. However, it is surprising that the Ministry of Agriculture ignores all of the above and continues with its biased and unscientific stand on GM crops. The Ministry of Agriculture’s continued aggressive promotion of GM crops is unacceptable and we want the Minister for Environment & Forests to be responsive to society and responsible to science. Therefore, we expect the Environment Minister to accept the first set of recommendations by the TEC”, said Sridhar Radhakrishnan, Convenor, Coalition for a GM-Free India.

Explaining that food security is not connected with faulty techno-fixes like transgenic crops, Kavitha Kuruganti, Member, Coalition for a GM-Free India added: “The attached letter being sent by scientists from around the country to Ms Jayanti Natarajan clearly shows that non-transgenic solutions exist for increasing productivity in agriculture, if the belief is that it is a supply-side problem. However, it is important to realize that today, food security is not about food production, but poverty, livelihoods and development.

“Further, no transgenic crops have been created to increase intrinsic yield potential; as regards operational yields, it is a mixed and unimpressive picture. In the USA, it has been found that in corn, of the 28 percent increase in corn productivity between 1996 and 2008, about 24 or 25 percent was due to factors other than GE. This is about 86 percent of the total increase in yield in corn in those years. GE contributed to a mere 14% of the total yield increase between 1996 and 2008. In the case of soybean, it has been found that the herbicide tolerance gene provided no clear yield advantage, while based on USDA data, yields went up about 16 percent from 1996 – 2008, due to (conventional) breeding and agronomy.

“In India, yield growth of cotton was most impressive in the years prior to the expansion of area under Bt cotton. Yield increases are attributed to many other reasons (other than Bt technology of Bt cotton) by none other than the CICR Director (and state governments too).

“One of the most important things that the scientists’ letter highlights is that from 1995, when 12% of the US population was food insecure, America (the country with largest GM crop adoption) has moved to a situation in 2011 where 15% of the population is food insecure, the same period that they went from zero to the current level of adoption of GM crops. Brazil (the second largest grower of GM crops) continued to see a decline in its hunger profile. However, the pace of decrease has decelerated in the years when GM area expanded (Between 1999-2001 and 2004-06 (which is the pre-GM era), the percentage of undernourished in total population reduced from 12.1% to 8.7%; From then to 2010-12, it decelerated from 8.7% to 6.9%). Argentina, the third largest grower of GM crops, has seen no significant difference in its hunger situation, during the years of expansion of GM crops. Paraguay, which grows GM crops on 65% of its arable land, saw population experiencing hunger spiral up from 12.6% in 2004-06 to 25 % in 2010-12. Countries like Peru and Venezuela have on the other hand experienced tremendous improvement in their hunger situation even though they have not adopted GM crops. It is clear that GM crop adoption has not meant greater improvements in food security. GE, as several scientists have said, is a costly distraction for the solutions that we are seeking in farming. It is time that the Ministry of Agriculture became scientific in its outlook and analysis; it is also important that the MoEF does not allow itself to be misled”.

The Coalition pointed out that citizens are keen to have an informed debate on the subject and it does not help to have a unilateral view presented by the government that too using taxpayers’ funds. On National Safe Food Day, numerous events are being organized by dozens of groups across the country, ranging from public debates, to lectures, to colorful rallies, to poster exhibitions, to film screenings and safe food festivals. The coalition urges citizens to join the events nearest to them and engage with the issue of food safety. More information is available at:

For more information, contact:

Sridhar Radhakrishnan: +91-99953-58205

Kavitha Kuruganti: +91-93930-01550

Synthetic Milk: a Glass of poison

This ‘technique’ is almost 15 years old but synthetic milk made an ugly return to the city earlier this week with the cracking of an entire racket and the arrest of one person.

Deccan Chronicle can now reveal that synthetic adulterated milk — extremely harmful for babies and expecting mothers — is being sold at a large scale in the city by individual milk sellers and shockingly, being mixed with the branded dairy milk products too. According to cops, it’s almost a “cottage industry”.

Police on Monday busted the racket operating out of Hyderabad’s outskirts within the Halia police station limits of Nalgonda district, where a person was using urea (ammonium nitrate), refined oil and sugar to churn out spurious milk.

Milkman Venkanna, 24, was found with over 20 litres of sythentic milk at his cottage and he was, in an audacious plan, selling the mix to the Hali Milk centre that is actually a collection centre for the Mother Dairy company based in Hayatnagar, Hyderabad.

Police is now convinced Venkanna is part of a bigger, more networked gang. Officials believe there are several rackets operating across Hyderabad and these activities simply go unnoticed. But why urea — a common component of fertilisers and even explosives. “To thicken the milk, these unauthorised skimmed products are being added. Last year in China, several children died due to spurious milk and the country’s products are now banned in many countries,” says former superintendent of Niloufer Hospital, Dr P. Sudarshan Reddy. So, what can be the other side effects of such an adulteration?

“The side effects of synthetic milk can be. It mainly depends on the chemical used, if urea is used in abundance, it would affect the brain first. When the urea level increases in the body, blood gets contaminated with it, and it flows to the brain. It could lead to the person losing consciousness, fits and in a few cases death too,” explains S. Vijay Mohan, Senior consultant physician, Care Hospital.
Meanwhile, authorities in Hyderabad have identified Risala Bazaar as the hub of adultered milk. “They are not even scared to use detergent powder or mustard oil,” officials added.

And residents too are extremely worried. “We’ve had three new births in the neighbourhood. I just cannot believe the first thing landing on our doorsteps in the morning is this poison. Milk is extremely important for children. But we can’t trust anything now,” says Meera Alwarez, Secunderabad.

How does the wood in your bread, biscuit taste today?
September 12, 2011 06:19 PM |
Veeresh Malik

A lot of the high-fibre fast-food packages sold by major food brands most likely contains “wood cellulose” that’s even used by the plastics industry. And the food safety authority is aware about it

Let’s start with some first-hand experience, which is very often how curiosity is sparked and questions arise.

A few months ago, I was wading through an assignment at a factory in an industrial suburb outside Delhi, where a large number of unskilled and semi-skilled workers were employed. Minimum wages in this segment are not very high, and for this category of people, every paisa saved counts. That’s what they’ve left the tough conditions in their rural homes for.

Most of us have absolutely no idea of how this segment lives and survives. Even though they come under the category of organised labour in many cases, protected by law with benefits like ESIC, EPFO and pension plans, what matters is what they get in hand every month and how much of it they are able to save to send home, or to try and buy that elusive plot of land to enable them to build a roof over their heads.

Everything else is nothing but promises, which they have learned not to trust, as it does not get them dinner in the here and now.

Expenses are, therefore, sought to be reduced to the bare minimum. Free meals of the sort provided on certain days at certain places are balanced against the cost of time and travel to get there. Cheap lodging in the vicinity of the factory is balanced against the option of a place to sleep in the factory environs free of cost, perhaps in exchange for some night duty responsibilities.

Education for family members is an aim for which no effort is spared. Likewise, some amount of effort and sacrifice is made towards further self-education, by sacrificing other expenses, and night schools—where they exist—are indeed popular. Free uniforms from the factory are a boon; the older ones are used to sleep in, reducing the necessity of buying clothes.

But what’s really interesting is the way they spend on food. As some of them explained, at one time it was cheaper to bring grain, cereals, lentils and even some amount of ghee from the village, and use it during their stay in the city. Now, when they return from their villages, whatever they bring along gets a good price if they sell it, and then they survive on what they can find in the city, in and around the workplace.

The first thing that takes a toss in such conditions is the group-cooked hot meal in the morning. It just doesn’t exist, and in lieu it is often a packet of cheap biscuits dipped in the first mug of free tea at work, eaten on the move. Lunch is often a perquisite of the job, huge helpings of roti-daal-subzi-pickle. Dinner is scrounged around. Most of these workers also double up for late evening work where a meal can be sourced.

So, to keep things going when hunger pangs overtake planning, there are the cheap-packed foods of the biscuit sort and the cheap fried foods of the samosa sort, dipped in a cup of ‘tea’ which is more often than not brewed with urea as a whitener instead of milk at the roadside stall.

The biscuits attracted my attention. Popular big brands selling handy small packs at a “price point” of two to five rupees for 6-12 biscuits, seldom found at the better stores you and I shop at. Taking a bite, dipped in tea, I found that they did not dissolve and break like biscuits used to in the past, and they filled me up admirably, giving me a feeling of fullness in very quick time. At first, I thought it could be excess corn glue binders or baking soda, till I researched the price of corn glue binders and baking soda and wrote that off. So, full of pride that I had discovered a cheaper alternative, I bought a few packets and brought them home, basic “glucose”, “chocolate” and “cream”. All major brands. So cheap?

Obviously, I was treated to a lecture, that these were simply not healthy. At this point, I thought it was snobbishness talking, but fact remains the biscuits remained untouched for a few days. Everybody prefers “local” bakery biscuits at our home, procured from a charity organisation at the nearby Lajpat Bhavan, or expensive imported ones presented now and then. So after a few days, I thought to myself, maybe the birds and the stray dogs will appreciate them more?

Next morning, along with the bird seed that we have sprinkled on a wall, I laid out some of the biscuits, neatly crumbled, but while the bird seed was gobbled up as usual by about 9am, the biscuits were untouched-even the squirrels who eat everything, left them alone. Same with the stray dogs, a sniff at the “orange cream” biscuit, a bit of a whine, and then left alone. In due course, the ants and the termites presumably finished off the biscuits, because the birds and dogs didn’t touch them.

The maid, watching bemused, said that the animals don’t eat it because the biscuits have “plastic” in them. Plastic? Where had she heard that from? Turns out that everybody in her village near Ranchi knew about this, because some people from there who worked in a processed factory had told them that the seths were now using an ingredient for bread and biscuits called “cellulose”, in quantities from 15% to 25%. How did they know? Because similar packets from the same supplier were being used for the plastic to be used for the wrapping and packaging, as well as to line the insides of the biscuit packaging to prevent the biscuit from going soggy. To prove her point, she crumbled up the biscuits and stirred them into a mug of warm water. After a few minutes, much of what used to be the biscuit was still floating on top. After a few hours it was exactly the same.

Please try this yourself. It is like the “patty” inside the famous McDonalds burger, which does not deteriorate or go bad for days on end.

Around the same time, I had been filing RTI applications on the subject of artificial sweeteners used by the processed food industry, specifically called “aspartame”. (Read, Did you check the neurotoxin in your ‘soft’ drink today?) In the course of the responses, which contained the usual evasive answers from the ministries, as well as the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), I also managed to develop some sources within. People like you and me, but unwilling or unable to come on record, but right-thinking all the same.

I decided to approach a few of them to try and find out what was going on, and meanwhile, tried to place a total ban on packaged bread and biscuits at home, rewarding the maid with basic bakery lessons and going in for “chakki atta” ground at a store. (By the way, the one shop in our area which provides fresh ground atta of various sorts has so much business now that the owner is opening a second shop and provides an increasingly growing range of choices, with exotic grains of all sorts.)

This was when I received my next surprise. Yes, the FSSAI, at an informal level, were aware that there was something being added to processed foods, especially biscuits and bread, for the last few years, and that this new miracle ingredient going under the technological name of ‘cellulose’ was actually the same ‘wood cellulose’ used by, among others, the plastics industry, and by an amazing coincidence of nomenclature, was categorised as ‘fibre’ for all practical purposes, including the list of ingredients. As a matter of fact, within the industry there was growing awareness on the cost-saving benefits of adding more and more wood cellulose to everything, not just bread and biscuits, but also ice cream, cheese, meat . . . and upstream into desserts, pizzas and most other forms of ‘fast food’.

So just how did ‘wood cellulose’ get into the lexicon of the Ministry of Food Processing (MoFP) and the FSSAI as ‘fibre’? Well, in one way, it is the truth. Wood cellulose is fibre. The only thing is that unless you share your enzymes with termites, you and I can’t digest it. Even woodpeckers can’t digest wood cellulose or wood, and they are pecking away at it all the time. Nor could hundreds of thousands of people starving to death in famines from the Siege of Leningrad ,to closer in history in Darfur.

Within the food industry in the US, the FDA apparently permits limited use of wood cellulose under very specific conditions, and up to a maximum of between 1% and 3.5%. And there’s no way the manufacturers there can get away by calling it ‘fibre’.

Within the food industry in India, welcome to the reality, and check out how many new products on your shop or supermarket shelves carry the added nomenclature ‘fibre’. And as per my source/sources in the FSSAI, this is growing at a very rapid pace. The cost of wood cellulose in India, meanwhile, is dropping, because the new miracle raw material for wood cellulose in India is, hold your breath, not just the tree or plant, but sawdust. Processed sawdust = fibre in your bread and biscuit?

At such a rapid pace and with such huge profits on the back of this new trend to put wood cellulose into everything, the processed food industry—riding on the back of these lower prices and huge profits—is making a strong bid once again to enter the mid-day meal space. With an attempt to replace the hot cooked meal with a “high fibre” pre-packaged meal. And as an added incentive, they plan to use the term “fortified and enhanced” with a variety of other ingredients like, for example, iron. This, incidentally, is co-terminus with a strong movement in the developed countries to move away from such processed foods and fast foods.

India, therefore, is the obvious next target. Just like it was with opium for China a few hundred years ago and tobacco in the recent past, it is now going to be wood cellulose masquerading as fibre in our packaged foods.

I wonder, will they use iron sweepings or filings, and will we be able to transport these modern high-fibre fortified with iron biscuits using magnets, soon?