Multiple stakeholders have raised objections to import of pork from the US, as part of the recent trade agreement, on various grounds, the most important being the clandestine entry of GM food into the country and livelihood of hundreds of pig farmers in the unorganised sector, especially in India's northeastern states.
As part of the revised India-US trade deal signed last week, India has agreed to import pork and Alfalfa hay from the US in lieu export of Indian mangoes and pomegranate. India has not yet officially allowed genetically modified (GM) food (that doesn't have life) or GMO, i.e. genetically modified organisms (for example, seeds that have life).
Calling it as an effort to bring in almost clandestinely the GM into the food chain, Kavitha Kuruganti of the 'Coalition for a GM-Free India' said: "This looks like an attempt to push GM food and GMO after the companies realised that GM mustard and BT Brinjal was stopped."
Stating that all animal feed, including Alfalfa hay, in the US is GM, she said, "Last year, between September to November, we had imported soya meal. All soy, all corn and all cotton in the US is GM."
The activist also pointed out a procedural issue where the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) in the Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change (MoEF&CC) said when applications came, it would consult the Department of Animal Husbandry and Dairying (DAHD) under the Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry & Dairying.
"No one is checking the impact of entry of these into our food chain. By law it is very clear that both the substance and products are to be looked at by the GEAC. There is already a case going on about this," Kuruganti said.
GM or not GM is just one aspect. Import of pork can threaten the livelihood of hundreds of small-time pig farmers in the country, especially in the northeast.
Asserting that India does not have shortage of pork meat, President of the North-East Progressive Pig Farmers' Association, Manoj Kumar Basumatary, said, the US pork is far better in quality compared to Indian pork. "Moreover, the US farmers or industry have the best of breeds, which are genetically modified. They also feed them GMO crops."
A 140 kg pig can be raised in the US in just six months compared to a 100-kg in India in 7-8 months. "It is done on an industrial scale there. We just cannot compete with them. The US can flood our market with cheaper products and that can cost the livelihood of hundreds of thousands of pig farmers in India," he said.
The executive body of North-East Progressive Pig Farmers' Association on Monday took a decision to write to the government on the issue and also reach out to other such associations to form a pan-India Association so that they can collectively fight the menace, he said adding, "Bihu delayed our action, but now it will happen soon."
Yet another stakeholder raised the concern about the impact of health by pork and pork products. In a letter shot off to the Prime Minister on Sunday, Jeeva Bhavana, an NGO that promotes plant-based food, said it is "profoundly alarmed" that the government has consented to this trade agreement.
"Exporting mangoes and pomegranates and importing pork and pork products is no more than exporting nectar and importing poison," it said in the letter that elaborated their consternation on the issue.
"Importing these products is akin to promoting increased consumption of the same, a decision that flies in the face of the recommendations of the most respected health professionals around the world. Just a few years back, the WHO stated unequivocally that processed meat (such as bacon, ham, sausage) are carcinogenic, and should be avoided," it said.
It also said that the consumption of even aunprocessed' pork is detrimental to human health due to high level of saturated fat and cholesterol (which are directly linked to heart disease, cancer, obesity, and other chronic diseases), anti-biotics (which are directly linked to anti-biotic resistance in humans), a slew of parasites and viruses a and the list goes on. "No matter how you look at it, pork and pork products are dangerous to human health and should be avoided completely," the letter said.
Incidentally, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) had on November 15 put out the draft regulations on GM foods, which too has been termed by the civil society groups as a ploy to bring in GM foods through the backdoor.
Since April 2016, the issue of GM foods had been left virtually unregulated between the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) in the Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change (MoEF&CC) and the FSSAI under the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare (MoH&FW).
Repeated attempts to reach Commissioner (Trade) in the Department of Animal Husbandry and Dairying and even his deputies on phone and e-mail failed to evoke any response.
(With inputs from IANS)