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The Times of India (New Delhi edition) - - Times Nation - Rema.Na­gara­jan @times­group.com THE TIMES OF IN­DIA, NEW DELHI | TUES­DAY, OC­TO­BER 8, 2019

The Food Safety and Stan­dards Author­ity of In­dia (FSSAI) has en­tered into sev­eral part­ner­ships with or­gan­i­sa­tions floated by food com­pa­nies, spark­ing off con­cerns about con­flict of in­ter­est since these com­pa­nies are to be reg­u­lated by the Author­ity.

On its web­site, FSSAI lists its part­ner­ships, which in­clude one with an or­gan­i­sa­tion called CHIFFS (CII-Hin­dus­tan Unilever Ini­tia­tive on Food Safety Sciences). The Con­fed­er­a­tion of In­dian In­dus­try (CII) is an in­dus­try as­so­ci­a­tion that lob­bies for cor­po­rate in­ter­ests and Hin­dus­tan Lever’s well known food brands in­clude Knorr soups, Brook Bond tea, Lip­ton, Cor­netto and Kis­san. The ini­tia­tive in­cludes other com­pa­nies such as Dupont, Keven­ter Agro, Rasna, Nes­tle and Dabur. The part­ner­ship is “to co-pro­duce food safety as a shared re­spon­si­bil­ity”.

The wit­nesses for the MoU signed be­tween the FSSAI and CHIFFS in­clude the reg­u­la­tory af­fairs of­fi­cial of Coca-Cola and the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Food and Agri­cul­ture Cen­ter of Ex­cel­lence (FACE). FACE is a joint ini­tia­tive of CII and Ju­bi­lant Bhar­tia, bet­ter known for Domino’s Pizza and Dunkin’ Donuts. FACE and CHIFFS seem to have many com­mon peo­ple in var­i­ous ca­pac­i­ties.

The FSSAI’s ‘Eat Right In­dia’ cam­paign has in­volved sev­eral food busi­nesses that have “come for­ward to vol­un­tar­ily make com­mit­ments” on re­duc­ing trans­fats, sugar and salts in pack­aged foods and to pro­mote health­ier food op­tions. The web­site of the cam­paign, which lists al­most ev­ery big food com­pany as a part­ner, states that food busi­nesses have been nudged to pro­mote health­ier food op­tions in sev­eral ways. An in­dus­try no­to­ri­ous glob­ally for re­sist­ing and even flout­ing reg­u­la­tion is be­ing “nudged” for vol­un­tary com­mit­ments though self-reg­u­la­tion by it hasn’t worked in any other coun­try.

Re­source Cen­tre for Health Sup­ple­ments & Nu­traceu­ti­cals (ReCHaN) is yet an­other “col­lab­o­ra­tive ini­tia­tive of the FSSAI, In­ter­na­tional Al­liance of Di­etary/Food Sup­ple­ments As­so­ci­a­tion (IADSA) and CII”. Part­ners of ReCHaN in­clude DSM, one of the big­gest multi­na­tion­als man­u­fac­tur­ing mi­cronu­tri­ents, Her­baLife, Amway and SunPharma, which man­u­fac­ture nu­traceu­ti­cals. IADSA de­scribed it­self as a “global plat­form to guide the evo­lu­tion of pol­icy and reg­u­la­tion in the sec­tor”. It is pri­mar­ily com­posed of 50 mem­ber as­so­ci­a­tions rep­re­sent­ing over 20,000 com­pa­nies world­wide and meant to give its mem­bers a part in shap­ing reg­u­la­tion glob­ally and in in­di­vid­ual coun­tries.

The FSSAI has also part­nered with the Global Food Safety Part­ner­ship (GFSP), a pub­licpri­vate ini­tia­tive es­tab­lished by the World Bank “to im­prove food safety in low and mid­dle in­come coun­tries”. GFSP’s col­lab­o­ra­tors in­clude food MNCs such as Unilever, Gen­eral Mills, Cargill, Mars Inc and Nes­tle. The GFSP is sup­port­ing the FSSAI set up an In­ter­na­tional Train­ing Cen­tre in Mum­bai and is also “fa­cil­i­tat­ing study vis­its of FSSAI or In­dian del­e­ga­tions to var­i­ous coun­tries”.

In col­lab­o­ra­tion with Tata Trusts, and var­i­ous in­ter­na­tional NGOs work­ing in the field of nu­tri­tion, the FSSAI is es­tab­lish­ing a Food For­ti­fi­ca­tion Re­source Cen­tre to “pro­mote large-scale for­ti­fi­ca­tion of food and to nudge and fa­cil­i­tate food busi­nesses to adopt for­ti­fi­ca­tion as a norm”. Sev­eral Tata com­pa­nies are un­der FSSAI reg­u­la­tion. The in­ter­na­tional NGOs in­volved in­clude Food For­ti­fi­ca­tion Ini­tia­tive and Nu­tri­tion In­ter­na­tional. Al­most all iden­tify them­selves as pub­lic-pri­vate col­lab­o­ra­tions with col­lab­o­ra­tors in­clud­ing some of the world’s big­gest mi­cronu­tri­ent man­u­fac­tur­ers, food com­pa­nies or as­so­ci­a­tions and re­search in­sti­tutes floated by the food and bev­er­age in­dus­try.

FSSAI CEO Pawan Ku­mar Agar­wal told TOI that the part­ner­ships were be­ing wrongly in­ter­preted. “Food safety is glob­ally seen as a shared re­spon­si­bil­ity with fo­cus shifting from pros­e­cu­tion to pre­ven­tive ac­tion to en­sure food is safe in the sup­ply chain. We are ex­tremely care­ful in part­ner­ships as far as con­flict of in­ter­est is con­cerned. Ca­pac­ity build­ing of food busi­nesses and con­sumer aware­ness build­ing are im­por­tant parts of our roles,” said Agar­wal.

The CII de­fended its part­ner­ship stat­ing that CHIFSS ini­tia­tives were fo­cused on build­ing ca­pac­ity and ca­pa­bil­ity in high-risk ar­eas and that there was no room for any con­flict of in­ter­est in its ini­tia­tives.

CON­FLICT OF IN­TER­EST?

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