Where lies the truth vis-a-vis the Maggi row which recently provided much comic entertainment to the whole world? There are several questions that arise out of this sorry mess created by the safety agencies at the state and central level. Is the manufacturer of Maggi noodles really guilty, willfully or otherwise? How is that the very same noodle passes the safety test in one state while it failed in another one? Is Maggi noodle the only culprit in the food industry landscape of the country in violating the food standards as laid down by the safety authorities? How serious is the problem of unsafe foods flooding the Indian market? In spite of 68 years of independence, has India failed as a responsible country in protecting its citizens from the dangers of unsafe and hazardous food products being bought day in and day out by the innocent consumers across the nation? Is Indian food industry so irresponsible to market unsafe foods in spite of the established brand reputation some of them enjoy? Are the multinational companies have diluted standards for internationally famous brands when they are manufactured in the country? Has the government no responsibility in ensuring that the citizens are provided clean and safe water and air? Is the safety authority only obsessed with reputed brands and big companies, most of them managed by desi managers and trying to score brownie points by finding fault with their products while millions of small fries with no brand image to protect are allowed to get away with products of inconsistent quality and doubtful safety? Government at Delhi must answer these questions before finger pointing at one product out of millions of them produced and marketed in the country to day. According to the admission of the national safety agency itself, India is a haven for adulterated, sub-standard and unsafe foods, even beating China, considered so far as the world capital of adulterated foods! Here is a commentary on this sorry state of affairs vis-a-vis working (or morbidity?) of Indian food safety agencies.
"The country's packaged food industry is hobbling from a domino effect after the Maggi mess blew the lid off flaws in safety checks, inadequate information on labels and the lack of a uniform national protocol for laboratory tests of products. The raging row over Nestle's popular instant noodle reconfirmed shortcomings in the country's food safety network as data from the central Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) shows about 13% of the 2.4 lakh various product samples had failed lab tests since 2011. This makes India the number one country in terms of unsafe food, followed by China where 9.9% of the tested samples failed to meet prescribed standards. The enormity of the problem can be gauged from the global average of failed tests that ranges from 5 to 6%, according to quality monitoring organisation Food Sentry.The state-wise breakup is even more alarming with Madhya Pradesh (40%) and Uttar Pradesh (36%) leading the count in 2013-14. It's not surprising then that the Maggi crisis began in Uttar Pradesh, where inspectors are regularly on the lookout for adulterated foods.
The FSSAI data also shows misrepresentation on labels of food packets. Consumers remain in the dark about ingredients and nutrition facts of a product because of inappropriate labeling, says Amit Khurana, food safety and toxin unit head at the Centre for Science and Environment.
"Every ingredient of a food product should be clearly mentioned on the pack with the quantity of each element and in comparison with the recommended daily allowance. Easy to understand and easy to read front-of-pack labeling should be adopted," he says."
What makes this story more sordid and disgusting is that these statistics are derived from a minuscule number of samples from the market and the story would have been gut wrenching if statistically significant number of samples representing the real quantity of products manufactured by different sub-sectors of the industry were analyzed! According to a recent report from the US the extent of rejection of Indian foods exported to that country has increased phenomenally during the first 5 months of this year due to indifferent quality and safety violations. One can only sympathize with our poor Prime Minister who is exhorting the industry in this country to boost the image of India made products through his "Make in India" campaign. Unless there is massive shake up of the food safety agencies and dramatic infusion of funds for elevating the level of performance by the field staff and testing laboratories through vastly upgraded and expanded infrastructure, Indian citizen is destined to be at the mercy of unscrupulous food fraudsters and criminals, endangering the lives of 1.3 billion people inhabiting this country.