Monday, December 31, 2012


Food quality and safety are concerns for both the governments as well as the consumers. While governments world over have the onerous responsibility to protect the lives of its citizens besides preventing quality related frauds, consumer community is helpless in deciding on its own whether a particular product offered in the market is good and safe. It is creditable that the modern food regulations make it easier for the consumers to understand better what is inside a packet of food and the front of the pack labeling rules combined with the weights and measures control regulations are indeed revolutionary in nature. Implementing these rules and regulations calls for a sound infrastructure, adequately trained enforcement personnel and stern deterrent regime which are lacking in many countries, even if the food laws are excellent on paper.

Take for instance countries like China and India, both together accounting for more than 35% of world population, most of them not considered rich enough to lead a good quality life. But food frauds and adulteration are so rampant that it is difficult to keep track of violations that take place every day in these countries. The fraudsters and food criminals are so ruthless that they have no consideration or value for the lives of even children and old age population. On the other hand many unscrupulous manufacturers exploit the ignorance of the citizens in churning out inferior quality and safety suspect foods. Look at a super rich country like the US which boasts one of the best food quality monitoring infrastructures in the world and all one can see is a population most of which are big, fat, obese in appearance causing a big health crisis of unparalleled dimension.

Having stated the obvious, who is to be blamed for such a sorry situation which affects both rich and poor countries, whether under eating or over eating? Of course every one with a stake in food sector has to bear the blame to varying extent. Governments have invariably failed the citizens by not carrying out its sacred responsibility in disciplining the food industry in making healthy and safe foods. Industry pursuing a relentless strategy of earning more and more with least concern to the well being of the consumers, though there are some exceptions with some players still being honest. As for consumers, a reckless life style of eating unhealthy but tasty foods in quantities more than that required by the body is creating an increasingly morbid society afflicted by many health disorders. Added to this, most consumers lead sedentary living style with practically no regular exercise, needed to maintain a good health. If such a situation continues what will be the future of humanity in 100 years from now?

If excuses can solve the problem there are plenty being touted by all thes above stake holders. Some of them may be genuine which must be more carefully looked into. For example in a country like India, more than 75% of the food products available comes from the small scale processors with practically no adequate resources to carry out their operations in a way that can ensure safety of their products. On paper, India can claim to have a good food quality and safety law under the much vaunted Food Standards and Safety Authority of India (FSSAI) but at the ground level practically nothing is happening with the infrastructure for enforcement in tatters! If there is a modicum of order in this area thanks are due to the prevalence of a few giant food players with deep pockets setting up their most state of art facilities for quality control. However the small players in the country have no access to such facilities for periodic testing of their products as establishing such captive laboratories is beyond their means. The question is where will they go and how can they maintain quality and safety of products churned out by them?

There are many universities and food research institutions in the country which do have some decent facilities for food testing but they are mired in bureaucratic procedures which cause considerable delay in getting the results. Besides their testing fees are not low enough to be affordable to every one. From time to time grand statements emanate from the industry saying that it would set up modern facilities on its own to help those who cannot afford to spend too much on testing their products regularly. It is in this context one has to listen to a recent declaration by the hospitality industry regarding its intention to set up cost-effective alternative food testing facilities as per the norms of NABL across the country with easy access by the small scale entrepreneurs. Similar initiatives have to come from the processed food industry also sooner or later as neither the government is capable of addressing the issue nor the private testing laboratories are going to reduce they charges.    


No comments: