Adulterated fruits and vegetables are ubiquitous. Adulteration of food has assumed an ‘alarming proportion’ in our country. From milk to drinking water and fruits to edible oils and even meat are being adulterated. It goes on unabated and the incidence of incurable diseases like cancer becomes higher with time. This is a matter of grave concern because it directly pertains to public health, which cannot be compromised. Adulteration of food consists of substituting it wholly or in part by any inferior or cheaper substance or removing any sort of its constituents wholly or in part which affect adversely the nature or quality of the product.
Besides a ban, manufacturers should be punished for deceiving the public and violating food safety laws. Although the government has enacted several laws to curb food adulteration, they are far from properly enforced. Not least due to lack of trained manpower, and endemic corruption. As a consequence, public health is at the ‘mercy of the profiteers and adulterators’ poisoning our food.
With all this understanding and information known to authorities who can help in reducing the problem, are ‘nowhere in the picture’ to solve it. There is no mechanism to monitor such unscrupulous activities and punish the guilty who are posing a grave threat to our health. According to the provisions of Food Safety and Standards Authority of India, if any person imports or manufactures for sale, or stores or distribute any adulterant, by himself or by any other person on his behalf, shall be liable for a penalty up to rupees two lakhs, if the adulterant is not injurious to health. Rupees ten lakhs penalty can be imposed upon him if the adulterant is injurious to health. However, adulterators are not scared of any legal or punitive action due to the various loopholes prevailing in the existing laws. The lives of the people are endangered and simple fines and small imprisonments are not enough to deter adulteration. There should be provision for stringent punishments like confiscation of property, life imprisonment etc. So long exemplary punishments are not given, this menace cannot be stopped.
An empowered force of trained food safety personnel should visit eateries, food stores, even festival venues where food is served, and take action where adulteration or contamination is detected through scientific means.
‘Consumer Awareness’ is the first step to eradicate food adulteration. People should start suing the shop owners who sell tainted food. And law should be impartial. Prevailing laws are stringent enough to work as a deterrent against those indulging in food adulteration but much more needs to be done to implement them in the right spirit. Consumers have to be aware of their rights, and non-profit organizations should play an active role in this regard. To make the nation healthy, every citizen must be able to buy food that is free from contamination.
(The views expressed by the author in the article are his/her own.)