In recent times the Food Safety Standards Authority of India (FSSAA) has come under flak over their product approval system. At a recent CII conference the Health Secretary, Bhanu Pratap Sharma, said that the shortage of manpower and skills has forced the government to consider the proposal of spending Rs.1, 750-crore to strengthen central food regulator FSSAI as well as state food bodies.
Food regulator FSSAI, works under the ambit of Health Ministry and lays down science based standards for articles of food. It also regulates their manufacture, storage, distribution, sale and import to ensure availability of safe and wholesome food for human consumption. Most people were unaware of the FSSAI and its food regulatory powers till it came into limelight after it imposed the ban on Nestlé’s Maggi instant noodles in June this year.
The ban was lifted by the Bombay High Court and the Supreme Court too dismissed the FSSAI’s advisory system for product approvals. FSSAI’s advisories have been used to ask food manufacturers and importers to get product approvals for new ingredients in already approved foods or those foods that are deemed safe. All these have provided FSSAI with a negative image which was also commented upon by Food Processing Minister, Harsimrat Kaur Badal who had criticised the FSSAI for creating a “fear psychosis” in the food processing industry.
The government has now formulated a scheme to strengthen the FSSAI as well as the state FDAs. The measures will involve capacity building as well as setting up of laboratories and upgrading the existing ones. There are about 160 food testing laboratories in the country out of which 72 are in the government laboratories sector some 80 odd are private accredited laboratories. The ministry has evaluated all the government laboratories to find out where the deficiencies lie. Another area the government will touch on is the need to increase awareness about food safety.
The proposal was meant for both food and drugs. The Cabinet has recently, in August, approved the scheme as far as drugs are concerned and the approval for foods is likely to come soon as that is the need of the hour. The food regulatory bodies as well as testing laboratories definitely need the fillip as they already have their work cut out being short staffed. Out of the proposed Rs.1, 750 crore about Rs.800 crore will be utilised for the FSSAI and the remaining amount would be used on the state food regulators.
The Heath Secretary has also made a mention of the fact that the FSSAI only sets standards for different food products and the implementation is carried out by the state governments. It is the states that are responsible for issuing licences and they are the ones who enforce the Act and all the prosecutions.