In a spot

Consumer Voice - - Contents - Dr Shee­tal Kapoor As­so­ciate pro­fes­sor and con­venor, Con­sumer Club, Depart­ment of Commerce, Ka­mala Nehru Col­lege, Univer­sity of Delhi

Food Reg­u­la­tion in In­dia

In a spot

Glob­ally, the qual­ity cri­te­ria for food are be­com­ing more strin­gent and pa­ram­e­ters per­tain­ing to safety of food have taken the cen­tre stage, es­pe­cially in coun­tries of the de­vel­oped world. At the same time, as food sup­ply be­comes in­creas­ingly glob­alised, the need to strengthen food-safety sys­tems in and be­tween coun­tries is be­com­ing more and more ev­i­dent. All this has high­lighted food safety as a ma­jor area of con­cern. This ar­ti­cle jux­ta­poses the larger sce­nario of food reg­u­la­tions glob­ally with the sit­u­a­tion in In­dia, where the sys­tem of stan­dards and the mech­a­nism of im­ple­men­ta­tion and en­sur­ing com­pli­ance are far from be­ing suf­fi­cient.

Right to safety is the fore­most right as pro­posed by the United Na­tions Guide­lines for Con­sumer Pro­tec­tion in 1985. As con­sumers, it is our right to ex­pect that any­thing we buy from the mar­ket is safe for consumption. In­clud­ing food. Un­safe food can make us fall ill and cause dif­fer­ent types of diseases, neu­ro­log­i­cal and hor­monal dam­age as well as can­cer. From pro­duc­tion to consumption, it is the re­spon­si­bil­ity of gov­ern­ments, the food in­dus­try and con­sumers them­selves to en­sure food is safe. En­sur­ing food safety is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly im­por­tant in the con­text of chang­ing food habits, pop­u­lar­i­sa­tion of mass ca­ter­ing es­tab­lish­ments, and the glob­al­i­sa­tion of our food sup­ply.

Con­sumers ex­pect that do­mes­tic and im­ported foods meet ba­sic qual­ity and safety stan­dards and re­quire­ments re­lated to food hy­giene, la­belling and cer­ti­fi­ca­tion, use of food ad­di­tives, lim­its for pes­ti­cide residues, etc. Sci­en­tific devel­op­ments have al­lowed a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the nu­tri­tional qual­i­ties of foods and their health im­pli­ca­tions. This has led

con­sumers to be­come more dis­crim­i­nat­ing in food mat­ters and to de­mand pro­tec­tion from in­fe­rior qual­ity and un­safe foods.

Food Stan­dards and Reg­u­la­tions across Coun­tries

In or­der to pro­vide safe prod­ucts to con­sumers, gov­ern­ments and reg­u­la­tors in var­i­ous coun­tries have been pro­mul­gat­ing and en­forc­ing cer­tain reg­u­la­tions and poli­cies. Food safety reg­u­la­tions and stan­dards evolved dif­fer­ently around the world, as coun­tries re­sponded in their own ways to food-safety crises and pre­pared them­selves for per­ceived ex­po­sure to emerg­ing food-safety risks. In the main, glob­ally the reg­u­la­tions and stan­dards for qual­ity of var­i­ous prod­ucts have been shaped by:

a) Ex­pe­ri­ences of coun­tries with food safety

b) In­her­ent food-safety risk level in the food sup­ply of each coun­try

c) Abil­ity and will­ing­ness of in­dus­tries to al­lo­cate re­sources to con­trol the risks

d) Food-safety per­cep­tions of con­sumers and hence pref­er­ences for tar­get­ing risk-re­duc­tion ef­forts The main aim of reg­u­la­tors has been to pro­tect con­sumers’ in­ter­ests by set­ting the stan­dards for all ma­te­ri­als in­clud­ing the pack­ag­ing and the la­belling of in­gre­di­ents of pro­cessed foods. Food-han­dling risks are also man­aged by food stan­dards and food reg­u­la­tions.

De­vel­oped and De­vel­op­ing Coun­tries

In the de­vel­oped coun­tries, food laws and reg­u­la­tions and food stan­dards are more strin­gent, most of the time science-based in­volv­ing var­i­ous com­po­nents of risk anal­y­sis, and get­ting strength­ened with timely in­tro­duc­tion of new reg­u­la­tory stan­dards for pre­vi­ously un­known or un­reg­u­lated haz­ards. In the case of de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, ei­ther food reg­u­la­tions and stan­dards have not re­ceived pri­or­ity mainly due to food se­cu­rity, or the food reg­u­la­tions are not well de­fined, or there is a la­cu­nae in en­force­ment or im­ple­men­ta­tion of reg­u­la­tions. The dif­fer­ences in reg­u­la­tions and stan­dards among coun­tries can have a ma­jor im­pact on the econ­omy of the coun­try and can lead to in­ter­na­tional trade con­flicts. Stan­dards are of­ten seen as bar­ri­ers to trade and bar­ri­ers to de­vel­op­ment for poor coun­tries. For ex­am­ple, one ma­jor con­cern has been that stan­dards act as new non­tar­iff bar­ri­ers di­min­ish­ing the ex­port op­por­tu­ni­ties of the poor­est coun­tries who face mul­ti­ple con­straints in com­ply­ing with strin­gent stan­dards and up­grad­ing their sup­ply chains.

EU Food Reg­u­la­tions

The Euro­pean Union (EU) ad­heres to the un­der­stand­ing that all food-safety pol­icy must be based on a com­pre­hen­sive, in­te­grated ap­proach that spans from farm to ta­ble and across all food sec­tors in or­der to en­sure a safe global food sup­ply. An ef­fec­tive food­safety sys­tem must be science-based, trans­par­ent, and in­de­pen­dent of in­dus­trial and po­lit­i­cal in­ter­ests, and must be founded on con­sis­tent, up-to-date leg­is­la­tion. The food law both at the na­tional and com­mu­nity level not only pro­vides health pro­tec­tion but also pro­tects con­sumer in­ter­ests in re­la­tion to preven­tion of de­cep­tive prac­tices in­clud­ing adul­ter­ation of food, and en­sures ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion be­ing pro­vided to con­sumers. This reg­u­la­tion broad­ens the more spe­cific pro­vi­sions in com­mod­ity la­belling and ad­ver­tis­ing leg­is­la­tion by pro­vid­ing an over­all prin­ci­ple that con­sumers must not be mis­led. The Euro­pean Union Food Reg­u­la­tions en­com­pass the fol­low­ing com­po­nents:

a) Sci­en­tific ba­sis to food laws in­volv­ing sys­tems that are science-based and in­te­grat­ing science and risk anal­y­sis at all its lev­els

b) The pre­cau­tion­ary prin­ci­ple is rel­e­vant in those spe­cific cir­cum­stances where risk man­agers have iden­ti­fied rea­son­able grounds for con­cern about ex­is­tence of an un­ac­cept­able level of risk to health but the sup­port­ing data or in­for­ma­tion is in­suf­fi­cient for a com­pre­hen­sive risk as­sess­ment to be made

c) Trace­abil­ity of the ori­gin of feed, food, in­gre­di­ents and food sources to fa­cil­i­tate with­drawal of foods in case of any even­tu­al­ity

d) Roles and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of the nu­mer­ous and di­verse stake­hold­ers in the food chain so as to en­able build­ing up of a par­tic­i­pa­tive and co­he­sive frame­work for ac­tion for en­sur­ing com­pli­ance with food laws

e) Food-safety re­quire­ments that com­prise two el­e­ments: i) food should not be in­ju­ri­ous to health, and ii) food should not be un­fit for hu­man consumption. Only one of th­ese el­e­ments has to be in place for the food to be con­sid­ered as un­safe

f) Prin­ci­ple of trans­parency to in­crease con­sumer con­fi­dence in the food law

In the United States

The US food-safety sys­tem is based on strong, flex­i­ble and science-based fed­eral and state laws and it is the in­dus­try’s le­gal re­spon­si­bil­ity to pro­duce safe food. The sys­tem is guided by the fol­low­ing prin­ci­ples:

a) Only safe and whole­some foods may be mar­keted

b) Reg­u­la­tory de­ci­sion making in food safety is science-based c) The gov­ern­ment has en­force­ment re­spon­si­bil­ity d) Man­u­fac­tur­ers, dis­trib­u­tors, im­porters and oth­ers are ex­pected to com­ply and are li­able if they do not

e) The reg­u­la­tory process must be trans­par­ent and ac­ces­si­ble to the pub­lic

The prin­ci­pal fed­eral reg­u­la­tory or­gan­i­sa­tions re­spon­si­ble for con­sumer pro­tec­tion are Depart­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices (DHHS); Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion (FDA); US Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture (USDA); Food Safety and In­spec­tion Ser­vice (FSIS) and An­i­mal and Plant In­spec­tion Ser­vice (APHIS); and En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency (EPA). The depart­ment of trea­sury’s cus­toms ser­vice as­sists the reg­u­la­tory au­thor­i­ties by check­ing and oc­ca­sion­ally de­tain­ing im­ports based on guidance pro­vided.

Food Reg­u­la­tion in In­dia

Un­til 2006, a myr­iad laws and reg­u­la­tory bod­ies were re­spon­si­ble for de­ter­min­ing and en­forc­ing qual­ity and health stan­dards in In­dia. Some ex­am­ples: Preven­tion of Food Adul­ter­ation Act, 1954, im­ple­mented by the min­istry of health and fam­ily wel­fare; Agri­cul­ture Pro­duce (Grad­ing and Mark­ing) Act, 1937, im­ple­mented by the min­istry of ru­ral de­vel­op­ment; Agmark spec­i­fi­ca­tions; Bureau of In­dian Stan­dards Act, 1986; Es­sen­tial Com­modi­ties Act, 1955; Fruit Prod­ucts Or­der, 1955; Meat Food Prod­ucts Or­der, 1973; Milk Prod­ucts Or­der, 1992; En­vi­ron­ment (Pro­tec­tion) Act, 1986; Veg­etable Oil Prod­ucts Or­der, 1998.

All th­ese mul­ti­ple laws and reg­u­la­tions pre­scribed var­i­ous stan­dards re­gard­ing food ad­di­tives, con­tam­i­nants, food colours, preser­va­tives and la­belling, thereby lead­ing to a sys­tem that was over-reg­u­lated and un­der-ad­min­is­tered. In or­der to ra­tio­nalise the mul­ti­plic­ity of food laws and bring out a sin­gle ref­er­ence point in re­la­tion to reg­u­la­tion of food prod­ucts, a group of min­istries was set up to sug­gest leg­isla­tive and other changes to for­mu­late an in­te­grated food law that would pro­vide a reg­u­la­tory en­vi­ron­ment con­ducive to in­dus­try in gen­eral and pro­tec­tion of con­sumers. Based on the rec­om­men­da­tions of the group of min­istries, the min­istry of food pro­cess­ing in­dus­tries en­acted the Food Safety and Stan­dards Act (FSSA), 2006, with two main ob­jec­tives:

a) to in­tro­duce a sin­gle statu­tory body re­lat­ing to food; and

b) to pro­vide for sci­en­tific de­vel­op­ment of the food-pro­cess­ing in­dus­try.

Prin­ci­ple of Har­mon­i­sa­tion

FSSA 2006 in­cor­po­rates the salient pro­vi­sions of the Preven­tion of Food Adul­ter­ation Act, 1954, and is based on the in­ter­na­tional leg­is­la­tion adopted by CODEX Ali­men­ta­r­ius Com­mis­sion. The prin­ci­ple of har­mon­i­sa­tion is en­shrined in the Food Safety and Stan­dards Act. The Act clearly spec­i­fies that FSSA will be aided by sev­eral sci­en­tific pan­els and a cen­tral ad­vi­sory com­mit­tee to lay down stan­dards for food safety. Th­ese stan­dards will in­clude spec­i­fi­ca­tions for in­gre­di­ents, con­tam­i­nants, pes­ti­cide residues, bi­o­log­i­cal haz­ards and la­bels. The law is en­forced through state com­mis­sion­ers of food safety and lo­cal-level of­fi­cials. The Codex Ali­men­ta­r­ius or ‘food code’ was es­tab­lished by Food and Agri­cul­ture Or­ga­ni­za­tion (FAO) and World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion (WHO) in 1963 to de­velop har­monised in­ter­na­tional food stan­dards that would pro­tect con­sumer health and pro­mote fair prac­tices in food trade.

Brands in News for Wrong Rea­sons

We all know by now that Nes­tle’s in­stant noo­dles brand Maggi has been ac­cused by FSSAI of three ma­jor vi­o­la­tions, namely:

a) pres­ence of lead in ex­cess of the max­i­mum per­mis­si­ble lev­els of 2.5 ppm

b) mis­lead­ing la­belling in­for­ma­tion on the pack­age read­ing ‘No added MSG’

c) release of a non-stan­dard­ised food prod­uct in the mar­ket, viz. Maggi Oats Masala Noo­dles with Tastemaker’, with­out risk as­sess­ment and grant of prod­uct ap­proval

Maggi has since been taken off the shelves in In­dia’s mar­kets. Nes­tle, though, fully expects to have it back on the shelves by the year-end, by which time it will be done with retests as di­rected by the Bom­bay High Court. For the record, on Au­gust 13 the Bom­bay High Court lifted the ban on Maggi noo­dles, or­der­ing fresh tests within six weeks to check if it com­plied with the coun­try’s food safety norms. As for any di­lu­tion of brand eq­uity, your guess is as good as any­body else’s – on its part, Nes­tle is putting to­gether a mas­sive ‘miss you Maggi’ cam­paign.

While Maggi has been in the fore­front, it’s not the only one to have been put in a cor­ner. Food Safety

& Stan­dards Author­ity of In­dia (FSSAI) has re­jected scores of prod­uct ap­proval re­quests by Tata Star­bucks, Fer­rero, Field­Fresh Foods, Kel­logg and McCain, among oth­ers, on ac­count of as­sess­ment of risk or safety, ac­cord­ing to a state­ment on the reg­u­la­tor’s web­site. The prod­ucts are a com­bi­na­tion of im­ported and lo­cally made ones. The food reg­u­la­tor con­ducts tests of ran­dom sam­ples and in the case of im­ported prod­ucts, checks them at ports. As men­tioned in an open let­ter posted on the FSSAI web­site, com­pa­nies of­ten found it con­ve­nient to draw par­al­lels with the US Food & Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion or the EU reg­u­la­tory sys­tem, “lit­tle re­al­is­ing that self-reg­u­la­tion is rather com­pelling in those economies, thanks to a very con­scious and aware con­sumer base, cou­pled with an ef­fec­tive and re­spon­sive le­gal sys­tem.”

On the other hand, US food-safety in­spec­tors have la­belled hun­dreds of made-in-In­dia snacks un­fit for sale in Amer­ica, ac­cord­ing to Wall Street Jour­nal. The US FDA re­port­edly found pes­ti­cides in Haldiram’s prod­ucts and their web­site states that prod­ucts made in In­dia have been found to have pes­ti­cides and bac­te­ria in high lev­els. In fact, most of the In­dian snacks re­jected this year by US FDA were from Haldiram’s, the fa­mous Nag­pur-based food com­pany.

Yawn­ing Gaps

It has cer­tainly not helped that In­dia’s food­pro­cess­ing sec­tor is marred by a reg­u­la­tor that has tra­di­tion­ally lacked the re­sources (be­ing both un­der­staffed and un­der-equipped) and know-how to ef­fec­tively safe­guard pub­lic health and stan­dards. As noted by FSSAI it­self, “While a new Food Safety Act was promulgated in 2006, the reg­u­la­tion per­tain­ing to the lim­ited num­ber of food prod­uct stan­dards and the ad­di­tives, as also the reg­u­la­tion deal­ing with pro­hi­bi­tion and re­stric­tions, have been im­ported in the scheme of the new Act from the erst­while regime with­out a se­ri­ous re­view thereof.”

As things are, the en­tire pro­ce­dure of prod­uct ap­proval is a sub­ject of great con­fu­sion. The FSSAI it­self gives the im­pres­sion that it is still fig­ur­ing things out, with fre­quent an­nounce­ments of changes in pro­ce­dure on its web­site. Whether or not a prod­uct should be ap­proved for sale is based al­most en­tirely on sci­en­tific anal­y­sis pro­vided by the man­u­fac­tur­ers them­selves – not on that done by FSSAI. The law does pro­vide for ran­dom in­spec­tions and raids where sam­ples can be seized (or ac­quired), and sent for lab test­ing. If any ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties are found, the penal­ties (mostly in the form of fines and re­calls) can be steep. How­ever, it may be noted that while most coun­tries in the world have a re­call pol­icy, In­dia has only re­cently framed draft reg­u­la­tions for re­call.

As Con­sumers

We need to learn this one thing – that it is our right to get safe food. We should read the la­bel and the con­tents reg­u­larly, and if we get a prod­uct that is sub­stan­dard or adul­ter­ated, we should ap­proach the com­pany/shop­keeper. If they do not re­spond, we can bring it to the no­tice of FSSAI or lodge a com­plaint at the con­sumer fo­rum. We can also con­tact the toll­free num­ber at FSSAI – 1800-11-2100.

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