Monday, March 30, 2015

How does Indian food safety vigilance compare with that of USA?

If number of violations and indictments for the same in the food safety area is compared between the US and India, probably we may get some solace that this country is in a better position, especially if health damages from such foods are kept in view. But scratching the surface further, we can realize that such solace is totally out of place because of massive deficiencies in our data base and relatively tough "bellies" Indians have, practically immune to many infectious food borne pathogens. There are neither regular inspections, nor massive product calls nor fast indictment of violators in our country. Can we say with any degree of confidence that any food or water consumed in our country is safe as measured by international standards? Take for example our water supply systems in metro areas. There is no city or town in the country which can assure its citizens that its so called protected water delivery system can pass the safety test where as in a country like the US even water from a toilet tap is relatively safe! Recently there has been some move by the law makers in the US to bring about further improvements in the safety vigilance system there which is commendable. Here is a take on this new initiatives being attempted to overhaul the food inspection machinery that is operating in that country.

"U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is asking the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to increase the number of food facility inspections it performs and deal out greater fines to facilities found to have unsanitary conditions. He also called for an "easily accessible, real-time" source of information for restaurants and consumers who want to know about the conditions of the facilities that produce or warehouse their food.According to a press release from Schumer's office on Monday, in 2014, FDA cited more than 90 food warehouses and other facilities around the country for unsanitary conditions, including rat infestations. Food from those facilities could pose a public health threat, Schumer said. The press release cited a number of examples of facilities that received warnings, including a Brooklyn-based food warehouse containing rodent carcasses and feces, as well as insects at a rice producer and dead mice and rats at a cookie-production facility.FDA currently inspects "high risk" food facilities once every three years, while other facilities are inspected even less often. Even facilities with minor problems should be inspected more often than once every three years, he said.
Schumer outlined a three-part plan he feels would rectify seemingly widespread problems with food facility sanitation:
    1. More inspections. Any facility with problems that merit a warning letter from FDA should be immediately categorized as "high risk." FDA should also increase the number of inspections for high-risk facilities. When facilities provide evidence that they are no longer high risk, they return to a lower classification.
    2. Searchable database of problematic facilities. Restaurants and consumers need a clearer way to tell whether or not they're receiving food from clean facilities. "The FDA should provide an easy to find, search and navigate database of these facilities and their violations on their website or through another forum FDA believes can most effectively inform consumers," the press release stated.
    3. Increased penalties for violations. For fiscal year 2015, the fees associated with re-inspections of problematic facilities were estimated at $217 per hour. That's not a heavy enough fine to encourage strict compliance with food safety regulations, Schumer said."

What is very interesting is the relatively high level of awareness about the problems of consumers vis-a-vis food safety among the law makers and the extent of their involvement in consumer protection programs of the country. In contrast our law makers, if we go by their standards of behavior in the Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha or state legislatures, have no time for any thing but shouting, demonstrations, personal fights and many non-issues of total irrelevance to the needs of the citizen. Bills are enacted into law with hardly any discussions and implementation details are rarely worked out. To day's Food Security Act is nothing but a sham, "managed" wholly by the hardened bureaucrats with very little commitment or honest objective. In a country of scarcities in every food category and high prices, probably people may have to build dedicated temples for the "Food God" to protect them from food fraudsters and criminals with very little concern or value for the lives of ordinary people and offer prayers regularly!


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