n India, Food is one vital factor; you will find street-side food stalls to big restaurants overcrowded by the people. One thing which is the most common is the kitchen or the place where they cook and it’s unhygienic. Unless there is no major challenge to the health, one conveniently ignores the same. Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) is the apex food regulator. It is empowered by and functions under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India. The FSSAI implements and enforces food regulations as prescribed in the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 (FSS Act). But the authorities are laced with corruptions. They conveniently ignore hygiene for the extra perks. Previous to the FSS Act, there were a number of food legislation. All these have been combined into a homogenous whole in the FSS Act. We have law in place but its implementation is a big issue. Food safety is a serious public health concern in the world’s two most populous countries, China and India. In both the countries, the challenges of feeding a large and geographically dispersed population, millions of whom are poor and malnourished, are immense. This has led to the multiplying of illegal, dishonest, and bootleg suppliers and sloppy government policies. The results are disadvantageous to public health, particularly for susceptible communities. These crises further compromise international perceptions, indicating poor governance, weak political will, inadequate policies, and lax implementation. The path to development is not exclusively about economic growth, jobs, and infrastructure. Clear and consistent food regulatory policy and their implementation are both imperative for growth and the inherent responsibility of responsible and progressive governments.
This month, the prasadam (food) cooked in a temple in Karnataka took several lives, the caterer was never under the scrutiny; tainted milk products in India have led to child deaths, resulting in consumer backlash and pledges by the government to address the safety of food sources. Other food safety episodes in India include marketing tainted meat products, adulterated milk, and unbranded water. An investigation also charged distillers with adding the virility drug Viagra to liquor products. McDonalds and KFC have suffered losses due to food safety concerns, and the widely publicised gutter oil scandal lingers amid ongoing investigations. In Delhi, many of these outlets came under the scanner of food and drug authorities, even Haldirams, the famous food chains was also raided but with heavy hafta (bribe) they again become functional. The concern about food contamination — more than a desire to improve health — is now driving increased interest in healthy diets, including organic meat. This organic, food, oils, ghee and herbs to pulses, everything has become a huge business but the consumers are not told about the unauthentic practices that followed in this market.
The food tittle-tattles have dogged India for decades. The case of Nestlé’s Maggi instant noodles had thrust the issue of food safety into the national political spotlight. The additives such as monosodium glutamate (MSG) which some consider a possible health concern have been detected in Maggi noodles, although the company had consistently denied using such additives. Some even say that Maggi was attacked because those days businessman Ramdev was to arrive in the market with his Patanjali products. Even Patanjali products were banned in many places due to excessive use of chemicals being detected in all foodstuffs. The FSSAI Chairperson has been quoted saying that the food safety authority has not approved Patanjali Atta Noodles and the matter is being pursued. For instant noodles, the companies need to take prior approval. Patanjali Ayurved has not taken approval for it and whatever product was launched in the market, the consumer filed complaints of having maggots in the noodles packs. Ironically, the noodle packets are flaunting the license number while the FSSAI spokesperson claims that it is not a standardised product and have been launched without their approval. Only after the FSSAI approves a product, the state government issues licenses to start manufacturing. The Officials from the food safety authority allege that the approval has not been given yet but the product has been launched displaying a license number which they are not aware how it was procured. A letter from the authority notifying the same had been doing rounds on the social media. After the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) discovered unhealthy levels of lead in the noodles, the Indian government banned Maggi. But the same government was silent on Patanjali.
The rampant use of milk adulterants (agents to reduce thickness after water is added) can cause both short-term digestive problems and long-term chronic health problems. Genetically modified products are increasingly seen by some as a viable solution for feeding India’s growing population, setting the stage for a public battle among corporations, scientists, public health advocates, and NGOs. Although the EU recently lifted a ban on imported Indian mangoes, a number of agricultural products remain subject to import restrictions, due ostensibly to lax regulations and enforcement. In addition to garnering political notice, health and safety issues have become a publicly visible concern as well. For example, a video accusing the Hindustan Unilever of dumping toxic wastes had in 2015 created a wave of attention on social media. Such episodes are indicative of a groundswell of discontent as information becomes more ubiquitous and consumers become more informed – inevitabilities of a more educated and technologically savvy public. Regrettably, India’s food safety standards are not at developed world standards. This raises the prospect that India’s food safety monitoring system is inconsistent and arbitrary, a product of larger governance and bureaucratic failures at the regulatory level.
Food safety is only one of many threats to public health in India. Delhi city ranks in the bottom 100 of 476 Indian cities for sanitation and waste management. Child deaths from diarrhea are among the highest in the world due to poor water quality. Not a single city in India provides clean water that can be consumed from the tap. To connect the issue with larger developmental concerns, India needs FDI to maintain growth.
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