Thinking loud is a good exercise but if the thoughts are not put into action such thoughts are just futile. India is supposed to have a "powerful" Authority at Delhi which claims that it is overseeing the activity of food industry and ensure only good quality products with assured safety are manufactured and marketed. But looking back is this really happening in the country at the ground level and are Indians better off than they were a few years ago? Whole world knows that India has the weakest enforcement infrastructure to monitor thousands of food products marketed in the country and a sizable portion of the food basket is adulterated, some even dangerous when consumed continuously for long periods. The food fraudsters have a free run in this country as a microscopic minority of these criminals are brought to book. It is laughable that for a country of the size of India, the annual conviction for food frauds is hardly about 700! Against such a background the recent proposal to evolve a separate quality certification system for foods with quality higher than the minimum threshold level prescribed in the statute books, is a good "loud thinking". But is it reasonable to assume that this will really come into being and become a reality? Doubtful if the past track record of Government of India (GOI) is taken into reckoning. Here is the gist of the proposal now being "considered" by GOI.
"Processed foods in the country could soon be graded for their quality and safety by Quality Mark (Q Mark), a standard instituted by the ministry of food processing industries (MoFPI). It would be on the lines of Agmark, the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) and the International Standards Organisation (ISO) certification. This would be possible after MoFPI receives a universal nod on its report titled, 'Report on Establishment of Quality Mark in the Food Processing Industry'. The report, which was submitted by the Quality Council of India (QCI) to MoFPI sometime ago, was recently uploaded on both MoFPI's and QCI's websites for consultation and comments. The ministry added that it has also been circulated among industry bodies, such as the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry (ASSOCHAM), the All India Food Processors' Association (AIFPA), and the PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PHDCCI). Speaking to FnB News, an official from MoFPI said, "The ministry received a proposal from CII for establishing a quality mark for the food processing sector. Following the proposal, a meeting was held earlier this year. It was chaired by secretary of food processing industries, and attended by industry representatives." "At this meeting, it was decided to entrust QCI with designing the Quality Mark scheme for the food processing sector. It was envisaged that QCI would formulate the scheme following a process of multi-stakeholder consultation and subsequently the industry would decide whether and how to take it forward," he added. "The main purpose of the scheme is to offer the consumer the choice of purchasing a food product that gives a higher level of assurance of quality and safety. This assurance shall come in the form of Q Mark that would distinguish the 'marked' product from other products available in the market," the ministry added. MoFPI added that the scheme would be purely voluntary in nature and shall assist in providing both tangible and intangible benefits to the food processing industry, which must now decide whether and how to take it forward. The structure of the scheme shall help in validating both the product quality and safety amongst a plethora of products that are flooding the Indian market. The enhanced compliance by the food business operators (FBOs) who opt for the Q Mark scheme could eventually provide them a host of additional benefits, including a reduction in the regulatory oversight and an increase in the acceptance of food products from India in the international market, as well. Meanwhile, contesting reservations from some quarters about the prevalence of a number of other quality marks in the country, B Venkatraman, secretary general, QCI, said, "There is a basic difference between the existing standards and Q Mark – the others are for specific products (for instance, Agmark is only for agriculture produce, mainly for spices, and BSI is for packaged drinking water). The food processing industry needs a standard which will fulfil its own peculiar requirements according to the global standards."
It is not clear as to who is going to bell the cat? Any one involved in this proposal has any idea regarding the extent of efforts which is needed to put in place such a regime? Of course a few years will pass by before a number of committees to be set up come with their recommendations. Industry should be happy because there is an implied assurance that once the new quality certification is obtained they will have a free run with least interference from government agencies in monitoring the quality of their products. Every body knows the ISI mark which was once coveted by the industry and the pathetic experience during the last two decades. Even to day ISI mark is supposed to be compulsory for packaged water but where is the monitoring mechanism? Are all the ISI marked packaged water conform to specifications? Unlikely because of tardy implementation by the BSI which again is harm strung by infrastructural limitations.
One can only hope that the new "Q" mark scheme will not be similar to other existing "no good" government systems!