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Issues with India’s Food Regulatory System

GS Paper 2

 Syllabus: Governance


Source: IE


Context: Controversies surrounding food safety in India have put the spotlight on the country’s regulator, FSSAI.


Recent cases of food issues in India:

  1. Allegations against Nestle’s baby food products for unhealthy sugar content.
  2. Concerns over carcinogenic additives in powdered spices, including MDH and Everest brands.
  3. US customs declined entry to 31% of MDH spice-related shipments due to salmonella contamination.
  4. Indian food exports face scrutiny in international markets like the EU, indicating global apprehensions regarding the safety and quality of Indian food products.


India’s response:

  1. Spices Board announced corrective measures including mandatory testing of consignments to Singapore and Hong Kong.
  2. Collaborating with exporters to address issues and propose corrective measures.
  3. Issued guidelines to exporters on preventing Ethylene Oxide (ETO) contamination.
  4. FSSAI directed state regulators to test major spice brands for ETO presence.
  5. Planning nationwide surveillance in 2024-25 for various food products.
  6. Nearly one-fourth of samples tested in the last three years failed regulatory standards.


Operational Food Safety Regulations in India:

  1. Regulator: The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) is the autonomous body overseeing food safety under the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006.
  2. Role: FSSAI regulates the manufacturing, processing, distribution, sale, and import of food to ensure safe consumption.
  3. Key Regulations:
    1. Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006: Establishes FSSAI and State Food Safety Authorities, aiming for a single reference point for food safety standards.
    2. Food Safety and Standards Rules, 2011: Includes provisions for the Food Safety Appellate Tribunal, Organic Food standards, and regulates Food Advertising.
      1. Covers Licensing, Registration, Packaging, Labelling, Food Product Standards, and Food Additives Regulation.


Challenges to Food Safety in India:

Challenges Examples
1. Rampant Adulteration Milk is adulterated with diluted water, detergent, fat, and urea.
Adulteration of spices and edible oils. Synthetic sweeteners in cakes lead to fatalities.
2. Feeding of ’empty calories’ Packed food products containing high levels of added sugar. Leading to diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and obesity.
3. Weak Enforcement and Accountability Many food businesses operate without proper licenses.
4. Corrupt practices by FMCG players Violation of labelling requirements (e.g., Maggi noodles). Ban due to high levels of lead, and MSG.
5. Limited Public Awareness Unawareness of food safety practices among the populace.
Overuse of pesticides and fruit ripening agents.
6. Complex Regulatory Framework Difficulties for small and medium enterprises to comply.
Regulatory gaps, inconsistencies in enforcement.
7. Operational Challenges Lack of standardized recordkeeping, and intentional food fraud.
Difficulty in tracing ingredients, and assessing risks.
8. Logistical Barriers 10 States/UTs lack notified food testing labs.
Uneven distribution, and insufficient number of food safety officers.
9. Lack of Transparency Non-disclosure of testing results to the public.
Surveys not effectively addressing adulteration practices.
10. Issues with FSSAI Staff and Infrastructure Shortages: FSSAI faces persistent challenges with staffing and infrastructure, hindering its monitoring and regulatory capabilities.
Perceived as Paperwork: Many businesses see FSSAI regulations as bureaucratic hurdles rather than opportunities for guidance and inspection.
Procedural Shortcomings: Instances like the Vital Neutraceuticals case reveal procedural errors in FSSAI’s actions, undermining its enforcement credibility.


FSSAI initiatives:

Initiative Description
Eat Right India Movement Launched to transform the food system for safe, healthy, and sustainable food aligned with the National Health Policy 2017, focusing on preventive and promotive healthcare.
Eat Right Station Certification Awarded by FSSAI to railway stations meeting food safety benchmarks under the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, ensuring safe and wholesome food for passengers.
Food Hygiene Rating Scheme Developed by FSSAI for certifying food businesses supplying food directly to consumers, on or off-premise, indicating their hygiene standards.
Food Safety Mitra scheme Aims to create a network of Food Safety Mitras (FSM) to assist Food Business organisations (FBO) with licensing, registration, training, auditing hygiene, and other food safety measures.
State Food Safety Index Developed by FSSAI to measure states’ performance on compliance, human resources, food testing infrastructure, training, and consumer empowerment, providing insights into food safety practices across regions.
World Food Safety Day To raise awareness about food safety issues and promote actions to ensure safe and nutritious food globally.
Eat Right Mela Events organized under the Eat Right India Movement to educate people about healthy eating habits, food safety, and nutrition.
RUCO (Repurpose Used Cooking Oil) Initiative promoting the conversion of used cooking oil into biofuel to prevent its reuse in food, reducing health hazards and environmental pollution.
100 Food Streets Initiative to ensure food safety standards in street food by training vendors, improving hygiene practices, and monitoring compliance, enhancing consumer confidence in street food.


Proposed Amendments in Food Safety and Standard Regulations:

  1. Elimination of Multiple Certifications: Aim to abolish BIS and AGMARK certification requirements, mandating only FSSAI certification.
  2. Facilitation of Ease of Doing Business: Align with ‘One Nation, One Commodity, One Regulator’ vision to simplify regulations.
  3. Expansion of Standards: Include standards for Mead, Alcoholic RTD beverages, and introduce standards for the ‘Haleem’ dish.


Way forward:

  1. Strengthen Infrastructure and Resources: Increase investment in labs, training facilities, and regulatory bodies.
  2. Simplification of Regulations: Make regulations more accessible and business-friendly.
  3. Strict Enforcement and Accountability: Ensure rigorous enforcement with penalties for violations.
  4. Enhancement of Public Awareness: Launch a comprehensive awareness campaign on food safety.
  5. Encouragement of Responsible Agricultural Practices: Promote sustainable farming to reduce contamination risks.


Mains Links:

Elaborate the policy taken by the Government of India to meet the challenges of the food processing sector. (UPSC 2021)


Prelims Links:

Consider the following statements: (UPSC 2018)

  1. The Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 replaced the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954.
  2. The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) is under the charge of Director General of Health Services in the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.


Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

(a) 1 only
(b) 2 only
(c) Both 1 and 2
(d) Neither 1 nor 2

Ans: A