The consumer-industry-government triangle based on which healthy industrial development takes place, must be equitable to all the three stake holders. While consumer is indisputably the King, industry must have qualities of courting while governments should play the part of a facilitator. In India such a relationship is still in its infancy and mutual mistrust rules the roost constraining the realization of the full potential of the food processing sector to reach commanding heights through significant value addition to the enormous agri-livestock resources this country enjoys.
While industry depends too much on the government to get freebies, governments, both Central and States, often treat the industry as the proverbial 'cash milking cow' to extract revenues through fiscal impositions. Consumer has a grouse against the government that his constitutional right to access to safe foods is invariably violated by lack of adequate policy initiatives and effective control on rogue elements in the food processing and trading sectors. An area of least concern seems to be consumer education regarding various complex issues concerning food, nutrition, health and diseases. While the governments have their extension and promotion programs for consumer education, their spread, out reach and effect are limited. The most appropriate player is the industry which has direct linkages to the consumer through the products manufactured by them. But the potential for this strategy is not yet recognized in India.
The excellent model that highlights the capability of industry in building up consumer awareness is the one provided by The Grocery Manufacturers Association in USA which is aggressive in promoting sound public policies, championing productivity and growth initiatives and helping to protect the safety and security of food supply through scientific excellence. The $ 2.1 trillion industry in that country, employing 14 million workers, contributes annually more than $ 1 trillion in value addition to its economy. Where it scores over others is its initiative to compile and publish highly informative science policy papers containing unbiased current and scientifically accurate information and resources on critical subjects. The latest offering from this trade body on " Sodium & Salt-A Guide for Consumers, Policy Makers and the Media" is highly informative and revealing with right perspectives.
Is there a lesson to be learned from this model before us? Probably yes. The Confederation of Indian Food Trade and Industry (CIFTI), All India Food Processors Association (AIFPA), Protein Foods and Nutrition Development Association of India (PFNDAI) and Association of Food Scientists and Technologists(India)[AFST(I)] are eminent organizations with commitments to the welfare of the industry as well as the consumers. It is time they get their acts to gether to emulate the model being seen else where. Indian food industry must focus its attention to address various technical issues that confront the country, besides providing workable road maps to governments for achieving the supreme goal of consumer prosperity and well being which in turn will lead to a real partnership amongst the stake holders. It is not that nothing is being done by these organizations but what they are doing through seminars, conventions and workshops have no impact at all. AFST(I) has two journals with contributed articles, PFNDAI has a news letter with limited circulation, AIFPA has a journal and maintains a Technical Advisory Committee for namesake and CIFTI, as a minor associate of the Confederation of Indian Industry does not do enough to influence neither GOI nor the consumer.
What is needed is a professionally competent and coherent scientific group with independent views to address burning problems in different areas of food and project unbiased and uncompromising view for the benefit of one and all. These scientifically sound reports must be of highest technical value, well understood, appreciated and respected by fellow industries, consumers and policy makers and should have permanent reference value. If the organizations mentioned above can put their heads together and raise sufficient resources to maintain such a technical body, there are enough retired scientists in the country, with extra ordinary knowledge, experience, wisdom, intelligence, plenty of time on their hands, inclination and commitment to work for them. In stead of blaming GOI for every ills that face the industry, let us show what citizens can do to push the agenda for development on their own without any crutches from the government. A venture of this dimension is bound to be a good "Confidence Building Measure" between the industry and the consumer.