Change rules governing CFTRI

The controversy over the contents of Maggi noodles has thrown up a hitherto little known facet of the prestigious food testing laboratory, the Central Food Technological Research Institute (CFTRI) at Mysuru. When it was reported that Maggi noodles contained lead and monosodium glutamate (MSG) in excess of the permissible amounts, it was widely assumed that Karnataka too would get its stock tested and the natural choice would be the CFTRI.

But, the food lab surprised many by refusing to accept the samples for testing, its reason being that it was a referral lab and that it would only test those samples that came to it from the Food Safety and Standard Authority of India (FSSAI). Further, even if the state government passed on samples to FSSAI, it would route them to a similar food lab in Kolkata, and not to Mysuru. Since an issue of the Maggi kind was unprecedented, not many knew about this red tape. The reason for samples from Karnataka being tested in Kolkata is to apparently negate any possibility of bias during the process. The CFTRI, in turn, is authorised only to receive samples from other parts of the country.  While the intention is above board, what is intriguing and even a trifle inexplicable is the rigidity of the arrangement. After all, the CFTRI is a publicly funded institution and is meant to cater to a wide range of requirements.

In recent years,  when there has been a concerted effort to reduce red tape and simplify processes, it is time that the government takes another look at the rules governing food testing at CFTRI and loosen them to accommodate the changing times and the new trends in the food market.

For instance, in the present case, it would have been appropriate for CFTRI to accept the Maggi samples, test them and come out with their findings. In the middle of the raging issue over the purity of the Maggi noodles, the findings from the CFTRI would have carried great weight as that is the kind of reputation that this premier food lab enjoys. Instead, by refusing to test the samples, the CFTRI came across as bureaucratic and pompous. If the rules governing its ambit and nature of operations are the problem, then it is simply time for the government to scrap them and replace them with sensible guidelines that reflect the changing times and contemporary reality.  While doing so, the government would also do well to inject an element of flexibility so that the CFTRI can be on top of any situation instead of presenting a sorry sight.

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