Food safety needs upgrade
■ Measurement of toxicity have not been upgraded to standardised levels
The measure of toxicity in grains, pulses, milk, vegetables and foods have not been upgraded to the standardised Codex levels in practice for Indian consumption though they have been put up on paper by the Food Safety and Standard Authority of India.
These are aggressively implemented for export products. The levels are being adjusted according to height, weight and body composition of Indians.
Ironically, while the levels are low, the presence of toxic elements is very high when compared to the United States of America, Europe and even Saudi Arabia.
“The regulations have been made strict, but enforcement has to be carried out by the state government,” Dr R.B.N. Prasad, chairman of the scientific panels committee of FSSAI, explained.
“In the case of trans fats, the limit for India is 5 per cent and not 2 per cent like in the rest of the world, as it will take time to bring it down to 2 per cent. The reasons are many, as the systems in the food industry have to be upgraded and also awareness has to be created over why only 2 per cent,” Dr Prasad said.
Codex standards have been taken as exported Indian foods were being rejected because of pesticide residue levels.
For this reason, the standards have been completely upgraded on the international scale and now efforts are being made to have it implemented.
A senior Food Safety and Standard Authority of India official explained, “The crux is more on exported products, as they are from the organised sector. The effort is on what goes out, but what is within is being tested randomly. The apex body was heavily criticised for toxins in food. For this reason, random food checks are being regularly carried out in wholesale markets.”
Yet, the percentage of pesticides at the ground level continues because of bad farm practices where the bid is to save crops from insects.
Similarly, environmental toxins in water and environment are also being absorbed by the crops and that is leading to heavier presence than ever.
Dr Kalpagam Polasa, former director of the National Institute of Nutrition, explained. “Toxins are absorbed also during transportation, handling, storage and delivery of products. These are some of the reasons which are not taken into account. Hence, food safety requires proper handling, which is a major challenge.”
When compared to standards that are set in developing countries, the process of standardisation has just begun and only the organised sector is being made aware.
A senior food inspector who was a part of the training programme held recently said, “FSSAI has now set limits for additives and chemicals, which make their way into food due to processing and handling. These are the prepared guidelines and good manufacturing practices have been given to them. For the organised sector to implement it, the time is 2022.”
The agricultural sector is being told to get products labelled as organic, but there is stiff resistance from various farmers’ bodies. But FSSAI committee states that they have to get the label from them only and not any other body, as that is the only way in which best farm practices can be implemented. This is an uphill task as the numbers are very vast and the enforcement is not as required.
Dr Sujatha Stephen, chief nutritionist at Yashoda Hospitals, explained, “Pesticides are one of the suspects. Untreated industrial effluents being dumped into rivers and fields are also major culprits. The other growing problem is fumes from automobiles, which contain lead and manganese. These particles settle on crops, contaminating them. There is no proper enforcement or awareness about these, which is constantly showing high levels in tested samples.”