A workshop on “Scientific Cooperation Framework for Food Safety” was held by FSSAI (Food Safety and Standards Authority of India) here recently.
The meeting was attended by more than 120 participants representing concerned key officials from the ministries, public and private institutions engaged in research and development in areas of food safety, hygiene and nutrition and research funding agencies.
The objective of the workshop was to sift through those proposals and screen proposals having potential of falling within the objectives and responsibilities of FSSAI for funding purpose and identify gaps where new studies and research are required.
It aimed at facilitating a scientific cooperation framework by coordination of research activities, exchange of information and expertise, development and implementation of joint projects and best practices in the fields of food science, technology and nutrition. The focus of the day was on networking and discussion, as means to greater understanding between the different stakeholders, increased collaboration and to form concrete recommendations for improving current practices.
Session 1: Inaugural Session
Pawan Agarwal, CEO, FSSAI, apprised the participants with the mandate of FSSAI pertaining to R&D in food sector. He informed that earlier in response to an expression of interest, FSSAI had received around 90 research proposals from various scientific institutions for taking up R&D studies in the areas of food safety and nutrition.
Out of the proposals received, 44 projects were identified in the first level of in-house screening. These proposals would be discussed later in the workshop in five parallel technical sessions, with project investigators in each group making a presentation on their proposals. He also introduced the concept of FSKAN (Food Safety Knowledge Assimilation Network) among the participants and emphasised on the significance of this network which will facilitate a platform for virtual network of people and resources in academic / scientific institutions with an aim to provide effective and efficient access to knowledge.
Thereafter, Anuradha Prasad, joint secretary, ministry of food processing industries (MoFPI), enlightened the participants about the research funding schemes under MoFPI in the food sector.
Dr N K Ganguly, adviser to the department of health research, National Institute of Immunology, and chairman, scientific committee, FSSAI, emphasised that the definition of food has been changed over time and concepts like genetically-modified foods (foods containing GMOs), food fortification, probiotics, oral nutrient supplements have been introduced which should be kept in mind while framing such strategies.
K B Agarwal, additional secretary, ministry of health and family welfare, praised FSSAI for its effort of inviting the research community to engage with the body.
Ashish Bahuguna, chairman, FSSAI, delivered the presidential address at the event.
He spoke about the need to streamline research in food safety, identify gaps in research and also ensure that there is proper allocation of funding for research in the sector.
Session 2: Strategic Partnership
Dr J Lewis, consultant, FSSAI, opened the session with a brief presentation on FSKAN. He informed that FSKAN is an outreach programme launched by FSSAI, to facilitate scientific cooperation framework for coordinating joint projects and exchange of information and to establish a system of network of organisations. The primary objective of FSKAN will be coordinating various science-based activities, exchange of information, development/ implementation of joint projects, exchange of expertise and best practices and in the fields within food authority responsibility.
Dr Lewis opined that FSS Act, 2006, which was a science-based Act mandated the authority to establish scientific cooperation with organisations for joint projects or exchange of expertise and best practices in the fields of Authority’s responsibilities – safety and health of consumers.
He felt that food safety was the outcome of the risk assessment process whereby an assurance that the food was acceptable for human consumption according to its intended use. Since knowledge lies in a vast domain of scientific research and scholarship in many forms and formats, assimilation is the process of extracting the precise information required for conducting the risk assessment. Hence the acronym FSKAN and its logo are an expression of its objective and purpose.
Dr Jagdish Arora, director, Information and Library Network Centre (INFLIBNET), presented in brief the objectives and various services under INFLIBNET to promote and establish communication facilities to improve capability in information transfer and access that provide support for building a network of scientific/ research institutes/ universities and so on. He highlighted the envisaged strategic partnership of INFLIBNET with FSSAI for e-content development, training and awareness programmes and skill development.
Representatives from research institutes like Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR), Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR), Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Department of Science and Technology (DST), MoFPI and International Life Science Institute (ILSI) shared their views on the launch of FSKAN and prospective on how these institutes/ organisations can work in collaboration for creation of a scientific network.
Invitees from industry R&D like Chiffs, Hindustan Lever Ltd, Coca-Cola, Britannia, Nestle India, Mondelez, Heinz, and GSK shared the areas of their involvement in R&D in various food categories in India and expressed their desire to associate with FSSAI for FSKAN. Representative from United States Pharmacopeia (USP) delivered a presentation and apprised the invitees about the activities of their organisation and in particular USP’s Food Fraud Database, Food Fraud Mitigation Guidance, and related training and advising services which serve as a critical resource for industry, regulators, and other stakeholders to inform risk-based decisions on food fraud vulnerability and mitigation.
Session 3: Technical Parallel Sessions
After the tea-break, the invitees were divided into six groups to deliberate on specific categories of research proposals. Each group was chaired by an expert and senior FSSAI official(s) to facilitate the discussions.
The session primarily focussed on sharing participants’ vision on science-based collaborations within its objectives. Project Investigators (PIs) gave a brief presentation within their group to highlight the outcome/benefits of their project for FSSAI with respect to specific food safety issue, risk related concern, nutrition or any other facet and how the remedy/reduction/evaluation addressed by the project is beneficial to FSSAI; whether the solution proposed is not available in the scientific literature – or if available it is not applicable to Indian conditions, practices or dietary habits; whether with a sharper focus/finetuning the same output can be achieved in shorter time lesser funding and whether new instrumentation/equipment requested, if any, is currently unavailable at the institution/facility to commence the research.
Participants also deliberated on the core/thrust areas within the ambit of their group which needs immediate attention or requires study or research and also on how the existing proposals can be finetuned to achieve the same.
Session 4: Recommendations of Group Chairman
Chairman of each session presented the recommendations of their group to the house, announcing the shortlisted projects and the need for modifications/finetuning, if any, and to ‘re-submit’ the revised proposals to FSSAI.
While these five groups were emphasising on research proposals in specific categories, the sixth group, being chaired by Madhavi Das, CMSO, FSSAI was focussed on developing a strategy and framework for executing the functions under FSKAN.
Session 5: Constitution of Affinity Groups
During the session, Dr Lewis apprised the participants with the concept of constitution of affinity groups. It was informed that in order to forge together collective information where FSSAI can draw best practices and updated knowledge on subject, ‘affinity groups’ will be constituted who will work in collaboration with FSSAI on a continuing basis in future for identifying gaps where new research or studies are required. The group will be allowed to select a co-coordinator among themselves for each group who will be called as “Expertise Domain” for FSSAI.
Apart from these breakout sessions, a side-event was also organised. Members of scientific committee and the experts were invited to deliver a 5-minute talk on a food safety related topic relevant to the current scenario for video recording. FSSAI recorded 14 such videos during the workshop which will be used for training, education, awareness programmes and so on.
Based on the recommendations that emerged during the parallel technical sessions, research proposals falling within the mandate of FSSAI were shortlisted and the PIs were suggested to modify their proposals and ‘re-submit’ the revised proposals within 15 days.