Food Safety Regulation in India: An overview

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Dr. Rohin Koul

Trade between the sovereign nations has played a significant role in the world economy and has advanced the robustness of globalisation process. The story of trade in food is as old as nations itself and ever since nations existed, they have bartered food and agricultural products. At present, trade in agricultural products has provided comprehensive economic benefits as food and other agrarian products have become cheaper and availability of such products has substantially increased. Moreover, trade has also served as a medium for transmission of diseases and has contributed to threats to human health or life. The epidemic of bubonic plague which engulfed Europe in 14th century was caused by fleas on rats present on cargo-ships docked at a harbour. The growth of international trade has initiated conditions favourable for spread of diseases and has heightened challenges of detecting and effectively responding to such threats.
The essential requirement is that imported and domestic products should be safe and not create risk to human health. At the same time, consumers are more concerned about quality of food products and are curious about the practices which are followed during their production, processing and packaging. Some of the concerns of consumers also include whether food is genetically modified, whether it is organically produced, how animals are treated in case of meat/egg production and whether prescribed safety practices are followed in supply chains. Henceforth, food safety regulation is essential requirement both at international and domestic level and it is ensured through prescribed laws, standards, pre-market clearance, inspections and imperative production practices.
The history of food safety regulations has linked all civilizations together with reference of ancient food regulations in Indian, Egyptian, Greek and Roman cultures. At present in India, the Centre and State Governments are responsible for food safety regulations and the specialised organisations have obligation for effective implementation of these regulations. The following laws and regulations are responsible for food safety (a) Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006; (b) Fruit Products Order, 1955; (c) Meat Food Products Order, 1973; (d) Edible Oils Packaging (Regulation) Order, 1998; (e) Solvent Extracted Oil, De-Oiled Meal and Edible Flour (Control) Order, 1967; (f) Milk and Milk Products Order, 1992; and (g) Vegetable Oil Products (Regulation) Order, 1998. At the central level Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Food Processing Industry, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Ministry of Commerce and Food Safety Departments of the respective State Governments are responsible for implementation of these legislations. The function of these governmental agencies include: (a) review of existing standards; (b) finalisation of standards; (c) identification of area where there is requirement of applying new standards; and (d) formation of standards relating to chemical content, contaminant levels and additive levels in food.
Till 2006, the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954 was the basic food safety legislation responsible for preventing food adulteration. Under this Act, the Central Committee for Food Standards (CCFS) was responsible for formulation of commodity and product standards as well as for determining limits for food contaminants. The Central Food Laboratory (CFL) was responsible for analyzing food samples and approval of standardising methods of analysis. The Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954 was also implemented in states through inspectors who operated at the market level and also during transportation and distribution of food items. They had authority to make inspections and collect samples in accordance with prescribed regulations and submit them for analysis. The cases were filed before the magistrate and the penalty for violating the provisions of the Act varied from a fine of Rs 5,000 to a maximum of lifetime imprisonment. The Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 was enacted as presence of multiple regulatory agencies was hampering effective implementation of regulations governing food safety.
The Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 consolidated all existing laws governing food safety. The aim of this legislation is to provide a single reference point for all kinds of food safety standards in India. The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) established under this Act, is responsible to set standards regulating manufacturing, storage, distribution, sale and import of food products in order to ensure safe food for human consumption. In 2015, the FSSAI issued an advisory that the Blue Bell Creameries ice cream is injurious to health as it contains bacterium Listeriamonocytogenes which weakness the immune system. Similarly, it recommended that the use of potassium bromate should be discouraged in bakeries as it causes cancer. Recently, it has issued an advisory that packing warm food in newspaper exposes the human body to various health problems as printing ink contains cancer causing agents. The Act has defined the word ‘food’ in a wider sense as any substance whether processed, partially processed or unprocessed which is intended for human consumption and includes primary food as well. The Act has made it mandatory to have a licence for carrying any type of food business and has also insisted for labelling requirements for packed food items where manufactures name, manufacturing date, expiry date and nature of product is to be specified. The Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 has been an important step for streamlining food safety regulations.
The Export Inspection Council (EIC) established as the official pre-shipment and certification body under Export Quality Control and Inspection Act, 1963 is responsible for the pre-shipment inspection and certification of consignments which are meant for export. The EIC provides Food Safety Management Systems (FSMS) based certification on the basis of international standards on Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) and Good Management Practice (GMP) for ensuring quality in food processing. The Food Safety Management System certification is mandatory for marine products, egg based products and dairy products. The Marine Products Exports Development Authority (MPEDA) was established to promote the implementation of HACCP system in seafood processing plants. It has encouraged seafood exports by focusing primarily on five areas namely fisheries, aquaculture, processing infrastructure and value addition, market
promotion and quality control.
The present framework of food safety regulation is based on scientific and technically improved testing and certification procedures and is supported by the relevant standardising agencies for formulation and imposition of standards. The challenge of implementation of these regulations still persists, mostly with respect to un-organised sector which can further be acknowledged by improving execution of food safety laws and by sensitising general public regarding issues involving food
safety.

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