Finally the government has started to bring disruptive legislation for ensuring food safety and protecting consumer health. India feeds almost one fifth of the population of the world almost three times a day. Covid-19 has set the right context in the minds of the consumer for eating right and healthy foods. The days of unidentifiable food business operators at all levels are numbered now. Consumers are well aware of eating healthy and unsafe foods. The changing socio economic conditions has contributed to a surge in packed food demand exponentially.
What is food ?
As per Britanica the definition of food is as follows :
“Food, substance consisting essentially of protein,carbohydrate , fat , and other nutrients used in the body of an organism to sustain growth and vital processes and to furnish energy. The absorption and utilization of food by the body is fundamental to nutrition and is facilitated by digestion. Plants, which convert solar energy to food by photosynthesis, are the primary food source. Animals that feed on plants often serve as sources of food for other animals. “
This all is covered under a food chain and we have studied it during our school times. Now this food chain has been converted into a seamless value chain or food supply chain from Farm to table. There are multiple stakeholders who are making it happen and their contribution can not be neglected. Technically a farmer’s produce becomes food only after he sells it for the consumption of others. The crop may not be called food till it remains with the farmers and is unsold.
What is food safety ?
“The Food Safety & Standards Act, 2006 defines Food Safety as an “assurance thatfood is acceptable for human consumption according to its intended use.” Food Safety ensures that food is safe for human consumption and involves handling, preparation, and storage of food in ways that prevent food borne illness.”
We may now look at the recent news which talks about extending the power of the Food regulator ( FSSAI) to feed as well as packaging material. It is a historical decision. In case of food which is emanating from animals like Milk, poultry ,fish and meat , the feed being given to the animals plays an important role in ensuring food safety at first level.
Food safety is a first responsibility of the regulator which in turn ensures human safety. The food may be unsafe even without deliberate addition of any harmful additive also. It may happen because of hazardous toxins, drug residues, pesticide and insecticide residues, heavy metals etc. These may be leached into the food at the time of the farming.
Packaging material as a culprit
All surfaces to which the food comes in direct contact is another grim area which needs attention. Primary packaging is playing a major role in making food unsafe due to use of poor quality of packaging . Poor material or poisonous chemicals for inks and colouring of the packaging material is mainly responsible.
The new amendment in FSSAct would at least ensure the freedom from food safety issues due to feeds and packaging . The act would also make the enforcement and penalties more stringent across all levels of FBO operations . It would cover all points from the manufacturers to the sales, distribution and serving places like restaurants including street foods. FSSAI has also been working relentlessly on the Eat Right movement . They are also working on food fortification and training and development of all stakeholders in the food value chain.
Future threats to food safety
In future we could expect to see some more stringent actions like banning sales of loose and unpasteurised foods. Recent outbreak of Brucellosis in China may be considered as a tipping point. As such these zoonotic diseases might affect dairy consumers in India also. Tuberculosis, Jhone’s disease and Brucellosis is very common in Indian animals . So the regulator must initiate a purposeful dialogue with all the stakeholders to avoid any food emergency in the future.
Also read : Brucellosis is a new threat to health in China
We must also not forget that any serious implication on consumer health due to negligence by the regulatory body may not only lead to consumer indifference to dairy products but would also impact the livelihood of over 70 million dairy farmers in the country.
I think that the relentless efforts of Sh Pawan Agarwal ji (Ex CEO Fssai) and Sh Arun Singhal ji ( current CEO of FSSAI ) would definitely make our one time dream of everyone getting safe and healthy food in India a lifetime reality.
Do share your suggestion on how to achieve this mammoth goal of safe food for all.
A blog by Kuldeep Sharma