GUNTUR: At a time, food adulteration has become a major concern and questions about food quality and safety are being raised prominently, it is natural to question the role of food safety department.
Health activists accuse the government of neglecting public health and say that scant attention is being paid to food quality and safety. Free rein is given to food product companies and street sellers, they claim. Questions are being raised about the roles and responsibilities of the food safety department. However, the answer is not far to seek.
As per WHO standards, Food Safety Department, which is also entrusted with the task of issuing licences after due checks, should have a minimum of 600 staff members, but the state has only 30. For instance, in a recent raid conducted on the wholesale fruit shops in Vijayawada region, officers of other departments and other districts were drafted for duty.
There are several instances of adulterated food including ghee and milk being released into the market. The activists question the government that despite understanding the importance of food quality and public health, why more staff members are not being recruited for the food safety department.
Lack of staff with food safety department is also resulting in loss of precious revenue. This is because, it is the licensing authority for issuing permission for starting any food related company, venture or sales, as per the Food Safety and Standard Act of India (FSSAI). According to sources, there are about six lakh food vendors across the district and there is every possibility for the government to earn revenue of at least `100 crore towards processing fee for licenses.
But most of the food safety offices in the state are running without a computer operator, and hence the process of issuing licenses itself is a distant reality. Despite, some of the vendors approaching the offices seeking licenses, issuing licenses itself has become a burden to the department due to the skeletal staff.
Admitting that staff crunch is limiting their activities, State Food Safety Enforcement Officers Welfare Association General Secretary also the Guntur Zonal Food Controller N Purnachandra Rao said that as per the norms of Word Health Organisation there should be one food safety officer to one lakh rural populace and for 50,000 urban population, that should be 600 food safety officers in the state as per its population.
“However, we are asking the government to increase the staff by at least 100 so that we could manage to take up the documentation work like issuing licenses as well as in taking up raids from time-to-time,” he told Express.
Meanwhile, it is also learnt that the High Court, which took up the issue of artificial ripening of fruits using calcium carbide had suggested the government to enhance the staff numbers of the food safety department to prevent the incidents of food adulteration.