Saturday, February 9, 2013


All citizens living in a civilized world have a fundamental right to get safe food and whether the governing system is democratic, autocratic, despotic, communists or any other hue and color, the government is duty bound to protect its population from unsafe foods marketed within is boundary. Modern food service system in most countries rests on processed foods industry, catering sector and dedicated institutions taking care of their inmates. In India there are two other places where food safety needs to be focused and they include the schools and socially oriented feeding centers and temples where pilgrims converge in large numbers. The food safety enforcement agencies should have adequate outreach to cover all these cases equipped with decent infrastructure and resources to carry out its functions efficiently and honestly.

There is stark contrast between the safety management systems in wealthy nations and that which operate in developing countries with limited resources. Whether it is the Food and Drug Administration in the US or the Food Safety Agency in the UK or the European Food Safety Council, their infrastructure facilities for monitoring the quality of foods in the market are considered excellent though they are all squeezed for funds when it comes to upgrading their set ups from time to time and infuse more personnel. Besides undue influence by the industry lobby often comes in the way of doing what is best for the citizens! In India there is supposed to be a powerful "Authority" which cannot do even 1% of the safety vigilance task required to be done. In China where authoritarian dictates were expected to act as deterrent against food fraudsters and others indulging in malpractices, the country was shaken by many food scandals involving the lives of many of its people. Though a 100% compliance in the market is not achievable in practice because of unintended episodes beyond the control of the industry, if a reliable system with focus on consumer safety is put in place, many precious lives can be saved.

This Blog will touch upon the travails of a small state in India, Kerala where there was an uproar regarding the supply of fungus infected prasadam by a popular Temple, as being claimed by the devotees and the response of the authorities concerned. The Temple in question is Sabarimala shrine located deep inside a forest, not easily accessible. The Temple provides two main prasadams, Neyyappam and Aravana payasam to millions of pilgrims coming from different parts of Kerala and other southern states who want to take back home these offerings from the shrine for sharing with their kith and kin. While the Travancore Devaswam Board denied that their Neyyappam was tainted with fungus, many people who had personal experience of buying these product from the official counters are vehement in their assertion that the product was really fungus infected. Interestingly a local Laboratory having accreditation from National Accreditation Board for Laboratories (NABL) confirmed the presence of fungus in some amples randomly collected by them! Who is the ultimate arbitrator in this case? Obviously none and the charade goes on!

According to those observers familiar with Kerala situation, the state government is not taking adequate interest on this vexed problem and most of the analytic laboratories under its aegis do not have approval from NABL. It is lack of support and initiative from the government that has developed such a logjam in safety management of foods produced and marketed and served in the state. Almost all public health laboratories are languishing with dilapidated and antiquated facilities and require massive infusion of funds besides long time to modernize their infrastructure. Why these laboratories cannot be strengthened and certified by NABL is an incomprehensible mystery! It is criminal for any government, claiming to be a democratic one, to ignore this problem any more, putting the health of the population in peril.

It is common sense that results generated in a NABL accredited laboratory will only be accepted by many courts and under the conditions prevailing now the culprits get benefit of doubt invariably. It is time people subjected to such chaotic food safety regime seek judicial intervention for directing the government to initiate a time bound program to upgrade the safety management system on a time bound manner. Each district should have a NABL accredited laboratory where suspected samples can be referred for technical opinion and based on their considered view actions initiated to take to task the violators of food laws.    

1 comment:

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Snigdha G,
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