Public health is at serious risk in Karnataka as the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India, which assesses the quality of food and food products sold in the market, is severely short-staffed in the state.
While the FSSAI has a sanctioned staff strength of 380, just 80 people are working for it now. The agency checks the quality of a range of food items, from the meat of animals slaughtered in abattoirs to bread sold in the market, and fruits to the eatables sold by roadside vendors and dhabas.
In some cases, the agency has been able to stop artificially ripened fruits and adulterated food items from reaching the market. But a senior official said that it could do a far better and extensive job if it functioned with a full strength.
Ever since its inception in Karnataka in 2011, the FSSAI has had a large number of vacancies at taluk and administrative levels, in its legal wing and at its laboratories across the state. It started recruiting staff to its Karnataka wing in 2012, but the process remains incomplete.
To make matters worse, at least 70% of the existing staff are drawn from the Health and Family Welfare Department and they are holding additional charge.
“The situation could put public health at serious risk,” a senior official in the FSSAI told Deccan Herald, requesting anonymity. “The government doesn’t seem to understand the possible dangers to public health.”
Just last month, the FSSAI inspected the hygiene in abattoirs in Shivamogga and Kalaburagi and the quality of animals slaughtered there. “With the festive season around the corner, slaughterhouses in other places should also be inspected, but we are unable to do so,” the official said.
Though short-staffed, the FSSAI has been able to do a decent job. The Central government took note of the FSSAI’s finding that potassium bromide was found in bread in Karnataka, another senior official said.
“Meetings are being held to ban it. We collected 23 samples from manufacturing and retail outlets in Bengaluru. But we could not do the same exercise in other districts because of staff crunch,” the official said.
The shortage of laboratories is another concern. “Even for testing and analysis, we depend on private and health department laboratories. Report of analysis takes time, which could impact the health of consumers,” he said.
Last month, the agency raided a fruit seller in Bagalkot and seized mangoes which had been artificially ripened. Similar raids need to be carried out in other places. The inspection of eatables at roadside eateries and dhabas is another pressing need.