Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Adulteration of foods-Is it rampant in India?

Look at a recent report by the FSSAI about the food safety in the country. Uttar Pradesh "shines" in one area of activity, that is in manufacturing and marketing spurious foods among all the states! What is galling is that this food safety body is publishing such data after getting it "collected" from the states which have the constitutional responsibility to ensure that only clean and safe foods are marketed within their boundaries. What does a laymen understand from such bland figures "released" by the food safety watchdog routinely every once in a while, probably to convince its bosses that it is doing a great job? Passing the buck is a favorite game with babus in the state and central governments since no hard questions are asked and no accountability is demanded. However responsibility for the sorry state of affairs vis-a-vis the consequences Indian population are suffering from, must be squarely laid on the doors of the governments at Delhi as well as in the states. Is it not interesting that the figures referred to pertain to only number of samples found to be adulterated while the sample size has not been mentioned which only can say how effective the vigilance regime is in the country. According to FSSAI the state governments pick up about 60000 samples an year from the 8 million retail outlets spread across the country and normally finds about 20% are adulterated. The million dollar question that begs for an answer is whether the samples picked up really represent the quantum of production in the country. The extent of "rampant" adulteration as being claimed is contained in the following report. 

Food adulteration the state is the second highest in the country. As per the Food Safety and Standards Authority in India, 1,458 food samples were found to be adulterated, unsafe and misbranded in the state. Uttar Pradesh with 4,119 failed food samples has the poorest record. Health Department officials said except certain fruits, most food items in the state were found adulterated. Milk products, cheese, ghee, tea, bottled water, chillies, garlic, turmeric and black pepper are some of the food items that are usually found adulterated in the state. Harmful chemicals are reportedly found in numerous food items and adulteration is rampant as the Health Department doesn't conduct frequent checks. Shopkeepers too promote such products in a bid to make a killing," said a Health Department official. He further said the highest percentage of milk samples fail in the state with the rate having doubled from 22 per cent to 44.3 per cent last year. On Friday, the Bathinda police raided a factory that mixed fake ghee with desi ghee. Similar incidents have also been reported in other parts of the state. There are also reports of pulses and apples being coloured with harmful chemicals. Commissioner of Food Safety, Hussan Lal, said the government had devised a mechanism wherein a person with a particular quantity of milk would be given a licence to sell. "Similarly, 50 designated food safety officers have been deployed across the state. Soon, their number will be raised to 60," he said. Lal further said they would focus on active surveillance to stop the sale and manufacture of adulterated food.

Though there is no unanimity regarding the quantity of processed foods manufactured in India since production estimates are not being put out after the eclipse of the erstwhile DGTD, one can get a fairly good idea looking at various raw materials being processed in the country. According such data, only 2.2% of fruit and vegetables go through the hands of the processing industry while the corresponding figures for milk, meat and poultry are 35%, 21% and 6% respectively. But when it comes to value of production by the processing industry, the estimated out put is valued at $ 300 billion or Rs 21000 lakh crore. With such a gigantic sized manufacturing base can picking up 60000 samples for testing is really sensible? This is a total sham in the name of food safety and how can any citizen get any confidence on the governments commitment to protect him? If the total number of "inspectors", the vital cogs in the safety monitoring regime, is not more than 1000 under the control of state governments the present sampling just works out to 60 samples a year by each inspector, height of inefficiency measured under any yardstick regarding their performance. The present system needs complete overhauling so that the safety management has at least 10000 inspectors and their efficiency is raised to at least half a dozen samples a day. Can India do it? Let us hope governments will wake up to this urgent need without losing more time.   


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