Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Food safety bill being "dressed up"- Will the Indian citizen ever be freed from consuming unsafe and substandard foods?

How serious is the federal government in India in safeguarding the health of its citizens? If past history is any indication all programs and activities emanating from Delhi have been focusing on rehabilitating the bureaucrats rather than putting in place a deterrent regime to punish adultrators and fraudsters who are violating even the diluted food standards with impunity without getting punished for their heinous crimes. With great fanfare the food safety act was promulgated by the previous government, a toothless body called food authority was set up and a technically "innocent" bureaucrat was promptly appointed as its chairman! Rest is history. Though maintaining the food quality and insuring food against adultration and fraud is a state subject, federal government comes into the picture for bringing in a uniform quality and safety frame work for the states to work in harmony. With strictures being passed by judicial courts one after the other during the last 2-3 years on the deficiencies of the act, it is a welcome development that the new government is mulling over its modifications seriously. Whether this exercise will end up producing a "mouse" at the end remains to be seen. Read further below regarding this development at Delhi. 

"The Government will revisit the food safety Act to make it more stringent to check growing instances of adulteration and contamination. "Two days ago, we set up a task force, which will submit its suggestions in 45 days, which will be then be put up in public domain for inviting comments. Imported food items will also be covered by this," Health Minister JP Nadda informed the Lok Sabha on Monday. Replying to a calling by PV Midhun Reddy of YSR Cong and Satyapal Singh of BJP, Nadda admitted that food adulteration and contamination were one reason for the rising burden of non-communicable diseases across the country. "It is also proposed to revisit the punishment stipulated for milk adulteration and make it more stringent," Nadda said, adding that the Government would focus creating infrastructure and manpower to face the challenge, such as setting up testing labs under public-private partnership. Nadda further added that 13,571 out of 72,200 food samples analysed in 2013-14 were adulterated, resulting in launch of 10,325 civil and criminal cases. He also informed the House that the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India was at present engaged in an exercise for harmonisation of the maximum residue limit of pesticides in food commodities. Earlier, Reddy said the threat from adulteration and contamination of water, milk, oil, etc, was "greater than the threat from terrorism", as it would take more lives in the long run. Terming the unregulated use of pesticides and antibiotics as "slow poison" and the use of hormone injections on cows to increase milk yield, as a more "serious crime than cow slaughter", Reddy particularly urged the Government to ensure "Shudh Bharat" (Pure India)" along with the initiative, "Swachch Bharat." 

The statistics put out by the minister tells a pathetic story about the safety programs of the government. In a country like India with a population of 1.2 billion the number of samples picked up for testing was relatively small working out to 200 samples a day across 30 states, again a paltry 7 samples per state! One wonders what type of inspection thousands of so called "Food Inspectors" in the pay roll of the states are doing if not checking foods in the market for quality and safety violations? Has the surveillance system in the country failed miserably? This is all the more appalling considering that more than 70% of food industry is in the hands of the so called "unorganized sector" which produces hundreds of diverse products with indifferent quality and safety credentials. When an enlightened law maker from Andhra Pradesh stated that adultrated foods pose much greater threat to the country than that posed by terrorists, we have to applaud him for stating the obvious. . 


No comments: