Food laws and food safety for India’s diverse and local food economy
The Government has drafted a Food Safety and Standards Bill 2005 as an ‘Integrated Food Law’, which has been prepared with the intention to be contemporary, comprehensive, and ensure better consumer safety through food safety management systems and set standards based on science and transparency and also meeting the dynamic requirements of international trade and Indian Food Trade and Industry. Clearly, the law has been designed to lubricate international trade and the expansion of the global agribusiness. Consumer health, nutrition, and food culture are not even mentioned as objectives of the integrated food law.
PFA needs strengthening, not dismantling
The case in the Indian Supreme Court filed by the Centre for Public Interest Litigation shows how Coke and Pepsi are violating the Prevention of Food Adulteration Acts. We need to strengthen the PFA, not dilute it or dismantle it through a new Food Law flooding India with toxics in foods and replacing our strict PFA and natural food systems with toxic processed food. This is why we must reject the integrated food law which, through Article 102 (overriding effect of this Act over all other food related laws), states:
The provisions of this Act shall have effect notwithstanding anything inconsistent therewith contained any other law for the time being in force or in any instrument having effect by virtue of any law other than this Act.
In effect, the Food Safety Law 2005 is a dismantling of the PFA. It is in effect the legalizing of adulteration of our entire food system with toxic chemicals and industrial processing.
There is no reference in the objectives to the most distinctive aspects of India’s food systems – indigenous science, cultural diversity and economic livelihoods in local food provisioning. 99 percent of India’s food is processed naturally and locally for local consumption and sale. Our science of food is based on Ayurveda, not the reductionist science which has treated unhealthy food as safe. This ‘free economy’ that serves local community is governed by community control, and local culture, is now to be regulated by the centralized rules and standards appropriate for a 1 percent industrialized large-scale manufacture. The ‘integrated Food Law’ is a law to dismantle our diverse, decentralized food economy.
We need stronger food safety laws, especially in the context of toxics in food and the introduction of GMOs in food crops. The Prevention of Food Adulteration Act needs to be strengthened, not substituted by the proposed law.
Industrial food systems produce food hazards and disease
The case of Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola selling soft drinks containing phosphoric acid, ethylene glycol, and huge amounts of sugar or High Fructose Corn Syrup shows that industrial food producers need to be regulated with strict safety laws designed through democratic participation. The report of the Joint Parliamentary Committee following the disclosure of pesticides in soft drinks by the Centre for Science and Environment, as well as recent studies published in a large number of medical journals, have clearly indicated that soft drink manufacturers have been using significant quantities of very harmful and toxic chemicals in their drinks in order to make them more attractive and addictive. They have been clearly pushing their sales and profits at the cost of public health. The sustained attempt by the Coke-Pepsi companies to refuse to disclose the contents and ingredients of their drinks, is clear. Coke-Pepsi are refusing to abide by the order of the Rajasthan High Court ordering them to disclose the contents of their drinks (including pesticides) on their labels, and instead resorting to endless review petitions and appeals. In fact the requirement to disclose the ingredients of all packaged food items on labels has been there in the Prevention of Food Adulteration rules for a long time. The fact that it has not been enforced again shows how Coke-Pepsi subvert and undermine our national laws.
It is now known that most soft drinks contain an extremely toxic brew of chemicals that are now known to be very harmful to human health. Apart from pesticides, chemicals deliberately added include large quantities of phosphoric acid (to give them ‘bite’), caffeine (to make them addictive), large quantities of sugar (to make them extra sweet), ethylene glycol (an extremely toxic and freeze compound to allow them to be drunk ‘extra chilled’ at sub-zero temperatures) and carbon dioxide.
Food safety is a growing concern with the industrialisation and globalisation of food. Food related diseases have spread.
As Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy at City University, London, reports, ‘the incidence of food-borne disease has in fact risen during the era of the productionist paradigm. In West Germany cases of S.Enterites infections rose from 11 per 100,000 head of population in 1963 to 193 per 100,000 in 1999, while in England and Wales formal notifications of the same disease rose from 14,253 cases in 1987 to 86,528 in 2000’.
Food hazards have increased with industrialisation of food production and processing. As Colin Tudge observes, ‘The modern food supply chain is convoluted and so long that it allows endless opportunities for malpractice of all kinds – including many that beggar the imagination of those who are not criminally inclined. The supply chain is impossible to police because it is so complex, and because policing is so expensive (and nobody wants to pick up the bill – certainly not the governments who win votes by keeping the price of food down). Sometimes though, it is not at all easy to draw a line between outright villainy (like the adding of contaminants) from the standard, legitimate practices of the modern food industry’.
On a global scale, new diseases are emerging and more virulent forms of old diseases are growing as globalisation spreads factory farming and industrial processing and agriculture. Disease epidemics and food hazards are the outcome of food production methods based on hazardous inputs and processes.
In the UK, more than 2 million cattle were found to be infected with Bovine Spongiform Encephelopathy (BSE), mad cow disease. By August 2002, 133 people had died from Creutz feld-Jacob Disease (VCJD), the human equivalent of BSE .
New strains of Ecoli 0157 have led to 75 million cases of food poisoning annually in the US, resulting in 325,000 cases of hospitalisation and 5000 deaths.
Swine fever in Asia has led to the killing of millions of pigs. A newly emerged Nipah strain killed 100 pig farm workers, infected 150 with non-fatal encephalitis and led to the slaughter of a million pigs to control the disease .
Avian flu has already led to human deaths and the killing of millions of ducks and chickens. The first sightings of the H5N1 virus behind the Avian influenza came in November. The epidemic has spread to ten countries. The disease has jumped from chickens to humans and killed eight people in Vietnam and Thailand. In 1997, the H5N1 Strain killed six people in Hong Kong .
Food production technologies have undergone two generations of changes over the last few decades. The first shift in food production technologies was the introduction of chemicals in agriculture under the banner of the Green Revolution. Toxic chemicals used in warfare were deployed in agriculture in times of peace as synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Agriculture and food production became dependent on ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’. The Bhopal disaster in which a leak from a pesticide plant killed thousands in 1984, and has killed nearly 30,000 since then is the most tragic reminder of how agriculture has become dependent on war technologies designed to kill.
Genetic Engineering will introduce new food hazards
New traits of viral promoter, antibiotic resistance markers being introduced in GM foods need public approval and strict monitoring for safety.
Dr. Mae-Wan Ho in Genetic Engineering: Dream or Nightmare? (1999) has identified the following risks to human health from genetically engineered foods.
Toxic or allergenic effects due to transgene products or interactions of transgene with host genes.
Vector-mediated spread of antibiotic resistance marker genes to gut bacteria and to pathogens.
Vector-mediated spread of virulence among pathogens across species by horizontal gene-transfer and recombination.
Potential for vector-mediated horizontal gene transfer and recombination to create new pathogenic bacteria and viruses.
Potential of vector-mediated infected cells after ingestion of transgenic foods, to regenerate disease viruses, or for the vector to insert itself into the cell’s genome causing harmful or lethal effects including cancer.
While Toxic and GM foods need stricter laws, local, natural processing in small dhabas, small outlets cannot be subjected to industrial regulation, both because they are not a source of toxic threat and because they are not centralized producers needing centralized regulation.
TO BE CONTINUED
Vandana Shiva, a writer and ‘ecological scientist’, directs the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Natural Resource Policy in New Delhi. Her current work centers on biodiversity and sustainable agriculture. Shje is a Slow Food international councillor.