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Posted at: Aug 23, 2016, 1:44 AM; last updated: Aug 23, 2016, 1:03 PM (IST)

Food safety law is decade old, but it’s a long road ahead

Only 25 pc of food biz operators covered under it; PM urges FSSAI to work for ‘Swastha Bharat’

Aditi Tandon

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, August 22

As the country’s food safety law completed a decade of operation today, Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged the apex food regulator to empower consumers and work to build “Swastha Bharat” (Healthy India).

In his message to the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India which was created to regulate the sector under the Food Safety and Standards Act of 2006, the PM said: “The authority now needs to focus on empowering the consumers so that manufacturers and suppliers of food become responsive to consumer needs, demands and expectations. Safe wholesome food will create a Swastha Bharat. This has to be the cornerstone of FSSAI.”

While the PM asked the food regulator to work on consumer power, ground reality reveals the regulator is far from completing its basic goal of registering all food business operators of the country. An important mandate of the Act was to bring all food business operators under its ambit and ensure quality control.

Data, however, shows that out of India’s estimated 1.8 crore food business operators, the law has managed to cover only about 45,00000 (25 per cent) in the decade of its operation. This means it would take more than a decade more to cover the currently existing operators.

Insiders say India’s food regulator is suffering from severe shortage of trained officers with the entire country making do with just about 5000 food safety officers when food business operators are in crores.

An officer of the FSSAI says: “The estimate normally is that 4 per cent of the country’s population is into the food business. But we in India go by a conservative estimate and consider that around 3 pc are in the food business. That brings the number to 1.8 crore. We have covered only 25 pc of these.”

Health Minister JP Nadda in his address today at an event held to commemorate a decade of the integrated food law emphasised the need to improve registrations of operators to ensure safe food.

But FSSAI insiders say the sector is reeling under fund crunch and ad-hocism.

That explains several recent instances of unsafe food being sold in the country, such as nine variants of Nestle ready-to-eat foods, including Maggi and a range of breads which were found to be containing potassium bromate, a harmful additive.

“We need food safety experts to run the food safety organization but unfortunately, many critical divisions in the organization are currently headed by bureaucrats or non subject people. Professionals alone can ensure safe food. This has to be understood sooner than later,” an FSSAI official said.

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