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Daily Editorials – Food Safety in India


Food Safety is an important social and health priority of any nation.

Context-The Food and Safety Authority of India (FSSAI) recently announced that it is working on fortification standards for packaged food products such as cereals and biscuits.

Fortification means increasing the nutritional content of a food product by increasing essential micro nutrients such as minerals and vitamins.


Food safety issues 


  • Food Adulteration
  • India’s food system is largely unorganised and highly fragmented with large-scale procurement, distribution, and retail sales
  • Impact of climate change on food supply and hence its quality , quality of GM crops its impact on indigenous crops.

Recent controversies-


  1. Mid Day Meal Issue-
  • Recently in Chhapra, Bihar a school principal was sentenced to 17 years by district court after finding him responsible for a mid day meal tragedy in 2013 which lead to death of 23 children .
  • In may this year over 70 children fell sick after having their meals in a school in Agra.
  1. Melamine in milk
  • Melamine is an organic base chemically rich in nitrogen , commonly found in form of white crystals. Widely used in plastics ,adhesives ,dishwares etc .
  • Addition of melamine into food is not approved by the FAO/ WHO .
  • Indian government has extended the ban which was first imposed in 2008, on import of milk from china till 2017 . Though india does not import milk from china , but it was done as a preventive measure.
  • FSSAi has introduced limits on presence of melamine in milk in india.
  1. Maggi Controversy
  • Maggi was found to have high content of Lead and MSG in it.
  • Lead can cause severe mental and physical impairment.
  • MSG stimulates the nervous system and makes food appear tastier . MSG is a natural amino acid found in foods containing protein, like milk, mushrooms and fish. But it has severe side effects like headache , irritation etc
  1. Carcinogens in Bread
  • Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) report in june this year found that two potential cancer causing chemicals which help in making the break fluffier and softer, Potassium bromate and potassium iodate have been widely found in bread variants across India .
  • CSE study had found that 84% of the 38 commonly available brands of pre-packaged breads, including pav and buns, tested positive for the 2 additives .
  • FSSAI then banned use of potassium bromate , and sent the case of potassium iodate to scientific panel.
  1. Quality of water FSSAI is examining the possibility of holding municipal authorities and other agencies such as state water supply boards accountable for the quality of water they supply. Just about 32% of India’s households have access to treated tap water (supplied through pipelines)

Government Initiatives to promote food safety


Adulteration of food comes under concurrent list of schedule 7 .

The Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 is the primary law for the regulation of food products and formulation and enforcement of food safety standards in India.

Food Safety and Standards Authority of India(FSSAI)It is the apex food regulator, independent, statutory authority in India. It was established under Food Safety Act 2006 . FSSAI is empowered by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India.

Functions of the FSSAI include:

  • Framing of regulations of food safety standards
  • laying down guidelines for laboratories for food testing
  • providing scientific advice and technical support to authorities
  • Collecting and assessing data about food consumption,contamination,emerging risks etc
  • promoting awareness about food safety in India
  1. Centre has notified Mid-day Meal Rules –
  • It makes conducting quality tests and sticking to nutritional standards mandatory.
  • The State governments will be held accountable for non-delivery of service.
  • It will be the responsibility of schools to provide hygienic facilities for cooking meals. School management committees will monitor the implementation of the meal scheme
  1. FSSAI guidelines on junk food-
  • It restricts availability of High in fat ,salt and sugar (HFSS) food or junk food in schools or near 50m.
  • The guidelines also list samosa, chana bhatura etc as non-standardised deep fried foods
  • Suggested measures like constituting school health team , using color code for foods in canteen and promoting nutritional food education in schools etc
  1. FSSAI has come out with new permissible limits of heavy metal contaminants, toxins and residues in food items.
  1. FSSAI is going to formulate new policies for food safety based on international standards by constituting an expert panel

Challenges- 


  • Insufficient number of laboratories to test food standard.
  • Insufficient manpower , many a times the laboratory has to be closed due to absence of Food Analysts.
  • What is junk food , has not been defined under the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954 and the subsequent rules thus making it difficult to regulate them.
  • Responsibility of using good water is on the vendor not municipal government for providing good quality water.
  • Food Safety Act excludes plants prior to being harvested or feed which the animal takes , thus no control on pesticides given or antibiotics given to them .
  • The Act provides the local officer power to suspend the licence of any food operator , exposing it to misuse.
  • Impact of small quantity nutrients is very slow and takes time , making it difficult to detect.
  • Mid day meal worker’s salary are very low eg- 1200 rupee in punjab , 2500 in haryana .

Solutions-


  • Substantial public investments are needed to expand and increase the quality of storage, handling and transportation infrastructure
  • Encourage private sector participation in the setting up and maintenance of laboratories .
  • Need stronger implementation of rules on ground , food is mostly considered an individual’s responsibility with lack of compensation in case of food poisoning or any severe impact.
  • Need to make sure that products in market and at streets are within safety limits.

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