Maggi row exposes chinks in implementation of food safety law

Maggi row exposes chinks in implementation of food safety law

The on-going controversy surrounding Maggi has exposed chinks in the armour of law enforcement agencies, besides depicting poor monitoring of food safety standards in the country.

The statutory mechanism, including the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, provides a strict regimen to check mixing of any kind of substances beyond the prescribed limit in eatables. The Supreme Court has treated food adulteration as a “menace to public health” as early as in a verdict on January 31, 1972, in Ishar Das Vs State of Punjab case.
The apex court observed: “The Prevention of Food Adulteration Act has been enacted with the aim of eradicating that anti-social evil and for ensuring purity in the articles of food.”

 In Pyarali K Tejani Vs Mahadeo Ramchandra Dange case, the Supreme Court had on October 31, 1973, declined to take a lenient view by letting off an offender by paying fines.

“In a country where consumerism as a movement has not developed, the common man is at the mercy of the vicious dealer. And when the primary necessaries of life are sold with spurious admixtures for making profit, his only protection is the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act and the court. If offenders can get away with it by payment of trivial fines, it brings the law into contempt and enforcement a mockery,” the bench had observed.

 In its latest verdict on May 28, 2014, the apex court declined to reduce the minimum prescribed prison term of three month under the law to a petty shop owner for an offence of mixing salt into red chilly powder. It said no benevolence can be shown to the appellant, more so, when it is a case of food adulteration. “It is clear from this provision that if salt is added to chillies even if it would not be rendered injurious to health, nevertheless the quality/purity of the article would fall below the prescribed standards/its constituents as prescribed. It would be adulterated,” the apex court said, going through the factual matrix of the case.

Under the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, an independent statutory authority – the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India – has already been set up, as part of consolidation of various acts and orders that have handled food related issues in various ministries and government departments.

The authority has to be further streamlined with appointment of additional field inspectors to ensure that products could be regularly checked for their quality.

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