Failing to regulate food industry

A parliamentary committee which went into the country’s food safety system has raised some important questions about it and made equally important proposals to improve it. Some questions are about the working of the Food Safety Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), the food sector regulator which has the power and responsibility to formulate and enforce rules and regulations and to ensure quality in the sector. The proof of the failure of the FSSAI in its basic functions is in eating not only the pudding but almost everything in the country’s eateries, restaurants and all other places where food is served for a price. Quality is, in fact, a concern not only in places where food is sold but also where it is given away in charity or served on social occasions. The food industry is huge and diverse and has a presence even in small and remote villages. So, the issues that the panel has highlighted call for attention and remedial action. 

The panel noted that the conviction rate in cases of adulteration and misbranding of food items is very low. During 2016-17, 18,325 food samples were found adulterated or misbranded, but only 13,080 cases were filed, resulting in just 1,605 convictions. The situation was much the same in the previous year. The samples which were found adulterated were only about a fifth of the samples taken. Even this begs many questions. The panel has asked the FSSAI to explain the matter. It may be because of poor enforcement of regulations, inadequate manpower or other reasons. The panel wants testing facilities at all levels to be improved in terms of expertise, facilities, etc., and provisioning of mobile testing centres which may be useful in many ways. The panel has also made a welcome suggestion that the results of food tests be made public through newspapers and other media. 

The committee has also told the FSSAI to formulate some standards for street food within an year. Street food is an important part of the country’s culinary culture and it has a great spread, diversity and traditions. Millions of people depend on it as vendors and consumers. Hygiene will have to be improved and vendors may have to be trained and helped in many ways. The panel wants the FSSAI to work with state governments in all these areas. Improving hygiene in food is a major issue. It is also mixed up with other issues like sanitation and cleanliness. The report has done well to highlight some of the problems and requirements. Remedial actions need to be taken in the interest of public health, and they should start with the FSSAI. 

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Failing to regulate food industry

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