Food adulteration for economic gain is as old as the food business and doing some thing to increase the profit margin is a tempting tendency very few human beings can resist. While innocuous adulteration may not pose much health risk to the consumers, a food adulterator becomes progressively greedier with each success and becomes bold enough to cross the line between economic adulteration and harmful adulteration that can cause grievous injury to the population. The field of adulteration is so vast it has place for individual traders, unorganized industries and reputed branded product industry. It can happen in an affluent country like the US or Europe or in an authoritarian regime like that in China or in a poor democratic nation like India. Universalization of food adulteration cannot be an excuse for condoning the same in our country.
Some of the rampant cases of adulteration of our every day foods include coffee with moglad coffee or other charred materials like roasted ground peas, wheat etc, cocoa powder with shells, sweet wines with diethylene glycol, butter with lard, ghee with vanaspati, rapeseed oil with other lesser priced oils, better looking flours by adding alum chemical, artificial colors based on copper, zinc, indigo etc, Sudan yellow and red in chilli powder, lead chromate in turmeric coloring, using starch in sausage, milk containing urea, melamine and other non protein sources to boost protein values, cinnamon powder with beechnut husk and other bark materials, honey with sugar syrup, liquid foods with formaldehyde for preservation and many such innovative frauds on the consumers. Our country seems to be well advanced in trader-friendly adulteration technology while consumer-friendly achievements in R & D in food technology is not worth crowing about. Misbranding, wrong labeling, misinformation and wrong and misleading advertisements are frequently noticed amounting to virtual fraud on the consumer. The present policies, strategies, infrastructure and personnel seem to be totally inadequate to tackle the menace of food adulteration. Is there no way out from this Catch-24 situation for the hapless consumer of this country?
There are two suggestions worth considering by GOI without any prejudice in the interest of the consumer. First GOI must take into confidence country's professional talents and there is no better way to it than involving professional associations like AFST and various others specialized in packaging, engineering, fish processing, dairy products, edible oils, nutrition etc can have a partnership in monitoring the food markets across the country. Under such a partnership, the members of these groups can be given a status to enable them to assess the quality and safety of market products by visual examination and report those suspected, to their associations which in turn will notify FSSAI for further action. An active vigilance system with FSSIA can unearth those traders who have the prolific tendency to defraud the consumers through food adulteration based on these reports. Imagine the availability of a gigantic voluntary work force of knowledgeable and experienced people for helping the GOI to improve the quality and safety of products from food industry and its potential impact on consumer welfare. Second, the good facilities for food analyzes established in many Universities across the country and research and training personnel willing to work for the govt at least for 15-25% of their time for undertaking the analytical job for a small honorarium reflect the real strength of the country which must be tapped in a constructive way.
While making suggestions like the one above, we must be aware of the consequences of involving volunteers in a function considered exclusively to be in the domain of the govt. There will definitely be some dilution of the 'importance' and the 'authority' of employees on the pay roll of the govt and it is not going to be easy to get such a radical suggestion accepted by those in power. Professional associations can work like technical NGOs which exist in this country in thousands, flourishing under govt patronage. Breaking the nexus between enforcement personnel and the violators of food laws is not easy to achieve in this country since prevalent system has been in place for decades. Changing PFA to FSSA, which took 53 years and hundreds of representations to the govt for this small change, does not mean any thing to the consumers because the very same people are going to run the new system also with no change in attitude and work ethics. Change we must, for the sake of our future generations!