Tuesday, March 13, 2012


Many countries depend on private auditors with good reputation for ensuring sound food safety practices are followed by the industry. There are international protocols for enrolling and evaluating the competence and capability of these private players and their assessments are generally accepted as valid. But the million dollar question that is rattling the safety agencies is whether these technical auditors are really doing a good job or they make only superfluous  and perfunctory inspection not caring to be critical in bringing out deficiencies in the manufacturing environment. It is a pity that several cases of negligence and callousness on the part of the private auditors were brought out which were responsible for many food poisoning episodes in the last two-three years and no action seems to have been taken to book them for such mishaps. Added to this the processors are prosecuted and made to suffer though they ultimately have to bear the cross for their negligence knowingly or otherwise. 

The private auditing system serves admirably well in the US where the retailers blindly accept their certification with no questions asked. If frequent food mishaps do happen with origin in such "inspected" facilities, it is a moot question as to what has been the function of such inspectors who charge their clients heavily and accept their hospitality? Is it not a risk on the part of these auditors to pass bad facilities as satisfactory?  Do they have patrons at the higher echelons to protect them from the consequences arising out of any potential mishap? Consumers do expect the food safety agencies to regulate private auditors and exercise authority to take them to task for dereliction of duty. Unfortunately the much acclaimed FDA of the US does not have such a power to discipline the third party auditors at present. 

If the current system is flawed what ought to be done to rectify and remodel the system in favor of the industry and the consuming public?. It does not bode well for the country if only setting up of food standards comes under the purview of the FDA. Look at Indian situation where there is an Authority without any real power or wherewithal to protect the consumer because food processing comes under the purview of the states, most of which have practically no infrastructure and personnel to monitor the safety and quality of products in the market. Though recognition is being accorded to private auditors for issuing safety certification under some circumstances such a practice is far and few. But if it becomes predominant one day, one can be assured that a lethal combination of private auditors and unscrupulous industry players can take the country for a ride making the fate of the citizen worse than what is to day!. 

Industry is caught between the deep sea and the devil when it comes to food safety assurance. Most industrial units do not have adequate resources to set up their own testing facilities and government controlled laboratories are conspicuous by their inertia and lack of dynamism resulting in inordinate delays in getting the test results. A few private laboratories are having flourishing business but they suffer from serious lack of credibility making their reports some what suspect especially in the eyes of government agencies. Under these circumstances the industry has to face incredible risks to be above water when it comes to safety of their products. A random check on the integrity of auditors by government appointed auditors from time to time may make the private auditors more effective as those found guilty can lose their auditor license.        


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