Tuesday, June 5, 2012


Copying from the West is a culture deep rooted in India and thinking and acting original keeping in view country's rich past do not seem to have crossed the minds of government policy makers in any field of activity. Is it not an anachronism that many laws that operate in the country to day are enacted originally by the British long long ago and except for tinkering with them no major attempts have been made to re-write many of them to adapt to Indian conditions. Even the fact that Britishers themselves have scrapped or drastically modified them from to time taking into consideration changes taking place over a time does not seem to be ringing any bell with the powers who call them selves as "government". India boasts of a talented man power pool that is second to none and they are capable of revolutionizing the governance to meet the aspirations of the common man. Unfortunately the vice like grip the bureaucracy has on the government does not allow such capable people to come any where near the power center.

The above comment must be seen in the context of the launching of the brand new food safety law last year with much hope and fanfare, raising huge expectations of the citizenry that they get relief from the massive adulteration of food at every stage in the food chain. It is almost an year since these laws have come into force but the frenetic pace at which the food adulteration industry is growing does not seem to be abating. At least the erstwhile Prevention of Food Adulteration Act had evoked some fear among the adulterators but the present condition which is more like a half way house is spawning new operators engaged in tinkering with the day to day food available in the market putting the lives of people in greater danger. Many operating provisions of food safety act are being challenged in judicial courts for their constitutionality and a sub-par infrastructure to support the field inspectors, that too few in number, makes the situation dicey for many criminals and crooks who are flooding the market with spurious foods of potential health damage to the citizens.

There are agencies like USFDA of the US, EU Food safety authorities, WHO-FAO Codex committee, ISO etc which have elaborate standards and safety norms and every country has the right to promulgate its own laws keeping in view its requirements under conditions that exist there. It is a fact that food is a diverse portfolio and the cuisines and product categories vary widely from one country to another and the chemical, physical, microbiological, sanitary and culinary aspects vary enormously among them. In evolving any standards of identity massive compositional data are required which can be generated only within the country and it is here hard work and scientific endeavor are called for. Unfortunately such data are hard to come by and any country aspiring to create its own food standards must strive to generate adequate and dependable data base on the foods consumed there for ages    

It is no secret that there are a number of issues concerning the interpretation and implementation of the latest food safety regulations put in place in India and probably over a period of time based on experience of working them at the ground level further clarity may emerge. But a close look at these regulations reveal a pattern that is both disturbing and disquieting. It is not difficult to lift en masse many provisions  from western regulatory regimes applicable to may modern foods like biscuits, bread, beverages, modern snacks like potato chips. But when it comes to traditional ethnic foods the regulators have no where to go and the easiest course is to omit them from the ambit of such regulations putting the onus on the industry to provide the data. There is an absolute poverty of ideas when the regulatory body classifies the entire ethnic foods as proprietary foods and it is shameful that the country's rich heritage foods, thousands in number, being relegated to obscurity under the new food law!  
The "funny"rule regarding  the necessity of prior approval of new food products / ingredient by the Food Businesses falling under Central Licensing Authority has created a lot of curiosity, anxiety and perplexity especially amongst the Food Business Operators who are manufacturing and selling Ethnic or Traditional Foods across the country over centuries by using latest manufacturing processes and processing aids etc. Most of the Ethnic or Traditional Foods which are not falling under the Food Categorization System adopted by FSSAI in their Food Safety & Standards (Food Products Standards & Food Additives) Regulations-2011 "shall be treated as Proprietary Foods and hence may be the subject matter of discussions/approval at any stage or time of implementation of the Regulations unless their (Ethnic or Traditional Foods & Food Additives) proper categorization under Food Safety & Standards (Food Products Standards & Food Additives) Regulations-2011 is not evolved/notified".   

Is it implied that Indians should shun their own foods and patronize western foods for which product identity is available in the rule book? Or does it mean that all ethnic foods are dangerous to eat and therefore must be under stricter vigilance by the "Authority"? There are many universities and food research institutions in the country where competent food scientists are working and it is a tragedy that government of India and its enforcement agencies do not demand for data to be generated and standards evolved within a time frame. Proprietary foods are normally new products created by the industry and asking for registration of such products is understandable. But products that existed for centuries cannot be considered proprietary foods by any stretch of imagination. The industry is justified in raising this issue and it must force the "Authority" to relax this provision. Probably these foods can be categorized as "others" and only a set of general guidelines to ensure their safety should be enforced. The primary concern should be to see that they are not injurious to the customer. This provisional situation can continue till each and every product is "standardized" by public sector food laboratories or by the manufacturing industry. Once major traditional products are "mapped" it will be easier to evolve standards of identity based on these data. 

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