Tuesday, January 17, 2012


One of the prime claims of achievement, made by the Ministry of Food Processing Industry, GOI was that it was instrumental in creating the food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) by integrating various central agencies dealing with this subject in different ministries. It is another matter that the "Authority" lacks real authority to enforce discipline in the food market, the fraudsters and adulterators still ruling the roost! It is very true that, for any organization to show its efficiency, it requires some time and the food industry seems to be optimistic that FSSAI would be able to show results soon. Whether the recent FSSAI surveys across the country that highlighted the prevalence of wide scale adulteration in milk and other foods, (already well known?) is a forerunner of more deterrent actions in future remains to be seen. Diagnosing a disease is a different ball game compared to surgical intervention to remove the malaise detected. According to international reports the much heralded FDA, USDA inspection system for meat and animal products and supervising agency for imported foods are likely to be merged, hoping for more effective safety compliance by the industry. There appears to be critics as well as supporters for the new proposal and here is a take on this new development.    

"FSIS regulates by inspection and enforcement. Their daily presence in nearly every single meat and poultry plant in this country is mandated by law and funded by Congress. They can shutter a plant simply by having the inspectors not show up for work. FDA regulates by education and writing Good Manufacturing Practices and suggesting policies to follow when producing food. Foods like sprouts, cantaloupe, peanut butter and shell eggs come to mind. And FDA inspection is either by a state entity, a third-party auditor paid by the company or themselves when an outbreak is recognized. The FDA has no mandate in inspection or audit frequency, and very little in funding to do so. And therefore they very rarely inspect or audit unless a disaster mandates it. This is not to say one agency is better than the other. They are very different entities, and the laws that they follow are very different also. To blend them into one might be like mixing oil and water".

People are always apprehensive about mergers creating monopoly and power centers not responsive to their problems and same fear is influencing the views on the proposed merger also. One need not agree with the critic above that the new mega dispensation would be worse than the fragmented players controlling food safety administration. As long as the new agency created is answerable to the elected body and if adequate built-in protection is provided for preventing hegemonic tendencies, there is no reason why the integrated system cannot work more efficiently than several independent agencies under different departments.


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