Quality and safety of foods available to Indian citizens are assured by the Food Standards and Safety Authority of India (FSSAI), the independent body of GOI entrusted with the above task. Earlier Ministry of Health of GOI through the Central Committee for Food Standards (CCFS) was doing the same job while Ministry of Food Processing Industries had some role through FPO, MFPO and similar other regulatory systems in overseeing some sectors of the industry. Major limitation for any centrally controlled agency to implement food laws is lack of an appropriate nation wide unitary machinery that can carry out the onerous task of monitoring the market as well as auditing the manufacturing facilities on a regular and continuous basis and dependence on the inefficient and inadequate infrastructure at the state level for execution. Only evolving suitable and appropriate standards, safety guidelines, protocols for punishment of offenders, legal aspects of administration etc are being managed by the Center. The results are there to see for every body with insignificant number of prosecutions being launched and pursued year after year with hardly any deterrent effect on the profitable "business" of adulteration
If the new pronouncements from New Delhi are to be believed the country's food laws administration is set for a major overhaul from February 2010. According the new scheme
being proposed, stricter quality and safety norms are to be introduced to prevent adulteration and contamination in some of the foods considered to be of high risk like milk, edible oils and meat. What is not clear is how the new system will be different from the one that exists to day. It is also claimed that packaged drinking water too would be covered which at present is regulated through Bureau of Indian Standards (BSI) which had evolved specifications for this product some years ago. What is intriguing is the statement that "the norms will focus on quality, safety and hygiene" as if, for the last 62 years of independence, these were not important considerations. One redeeming feature is the threat of canceling the licenses of offenders and imposing severe financial penalties on them, if and when proved of their offenses. But it is not realized that more than 70% of the industries in the food sector do not come under the purview of central licensing system.
The new enforcement system being considered also wants to lay down standards for slaughter houses, animals to be slaughtered, transportation of meat and its distribution. Retailers with more than 30-40 stores, Railways and Airlines catering, food services in airports, hotels, eating establishments and even schools are to be included for monitoring the quality and safety under the new dispensation.
With a handful of technical personnel at its disposal how FSSAI is going to accomplish the noble mission it has set for itself remains to be seen. The analytical laboratories which are an integral part of any quality monitoring system will not be able to cope with the increased demand that will be made once monitoring is taken up in right earnest. The woes of these laboratories are best brought out by the reports from the Municipal Corporations in Ludhiana and Ahmedabad where the existing facilities can hardly assess about 20-30 samples a day! There have been proposals to upgrade these labs some time back but lack of trained technical man power may still pose practical problems. Hoping that FSSAI has kept in mind these limitations before announcing the grand scheme, consumers can only wait with bated breath for the month of February 2009 to arrive for getting good quality foods with safety features beyond doubt!