It all started at the weaning stage. Nikki (name changed) was about to turn one when it became evident that she was not gaining weight. After several visits to pediatricians and multiple tests, she was diagnosed with cow milk protein allergy—a disorder found in some 7 per cent of children in the country. The doctors said that Nikki’s immune system considers the protein in cow milk as something that the body has to fight off. This leads to damage of the intestinal mucosa lining for which Nikki is not able to digest most of what she eats and suffers from chronic diarrhoea. They suggested changes in her diet—first eliminate all potentially allergenic foods from her diet, so that the intestinal lining can heal, and then reintroduce one food at a time to monitor possible reactions. Till she outgrows the allergy, doctors recommended a hypoallergenic infant formula, Similac Alimentum, to supplement her nutritional needs.
Manufactured and imported by American healthcare giant Abbott Laboratories, a 400 gram packet of Similac Alimentum costs Rs 2,800 and can meet Nikki’s requirement for about 10 days. But cost is the last thing on the mind of Nikki’s mother, an occupational therapist in east Delhi. Every day, she carefully prepares the formula milk meeting the prescribed calibration standards to ensure that Nikki regains health. Little does she know that all these months she has been feeding her toddler genetically modified (GM) food, whose safety to health has been a matter of concern worldwide.
Researchers with the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) in Delhi recently found evidence of GM ingredients in Similac Alimentum and another infant formula by Abbott—Similac Isomil, which is meant for the lactose intolerant (Access the full CSE Report). Infants with lactose intolerance cannot digest the sugar found in milk and dairy products and are often prescribed soya milk which is naturally lactose-free. The finding is alarming because the products are being increasingly prescribed by doctors for infants with special health needs.
It is also alarming because in an affidavit submitted to the Supreme Court last year, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) said, “The Central government has not notified any regulation under Section 22 of the Food Safety and Standards Act in regard to (sic) the manufacture, distribution, sale and import of genetically modified foods. Hence, genetically modified foods are not allowed in the country and neither can be regulated till such notification is issued.” But the list of such illegal GM products being sold in India does not end here.