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INTERVIEW

“Challenges facing FSSAI include licensing, registration”
Monday, 27 May, 2013, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
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The FSSAI has come under the scanner in recent times with regard to the implementation of food safety law in India and other pertinent issues. Keshav Desiraju, secretary, ministry of health and family welfare, Government of India, in a conversation with F&B news gives details. Excerpts:

The CEO and other top officials of FSSAI are either stepping down or seeking transfers. Some key posts are still vacant. Could you throw light on this?
As you are aware, the FSSAI has been set up fairly recently and is an autonomous regulatory body under the health and family welfare ministry as per the guidelines laid down in the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006.
The chief executive officer is appointed by the government and other officers working in FSSAI are on deputation. The authority floated a vacancy notice in leading newspapers recently to fill the posts that became vacant because of the transfers or deputations on foreign service term or short-term contract basis.

Adequate steps are being taken to ensure that the authority is manned by well-qualified and experienced officers.

What steps is the ministry taking to implement food safety laws in India? What are the areas of focus and major concern with respect to food safety?
The passing of the FSSA, 2006 – which led to the creation of the FSSAI – led to the shift from multi-level to a single line of control with the focus on self-compliance rather than on the regulatory regime as far as food safety is concerned.

It also introduced uniform licensing and registration regime across the Centre and the states. One of the major roles of FSSAI is the setting up of science-based food standards by harmonising with the Codex standards, wherever possible.

Many steps have been taken to implement food safety laws in India like
  • An online licensing portal and online food import clearance system are in place.
  • The procedure for harmonisation of Indian food standards with those of the Codex Alimentarius has been initiated.
  • Notified referral labs for purpose of food analysis.
  • Creating awareness through mass media for various stakeholders on topics like licensing and registration, misleading claims made by companies, misbranding,
  • adulteration, hygiene practices and safe food messages.
  • Checking the safety of the food being imported into the country presently at select ports.
How is the government planning to cover all food business operators in India, after two extensions to the deadline for licensing and registration?
Under the Food Safety and Standards (Licensing and Registration of Food Business) Regulations, 2011, FBOs are expected to obtain licences and registration under these regulations.
India is a vast country and the size of the FBOs ranges from small, petty ones with turnover of less than Rs 12 lakh to large ones. Depending upon their size in terms of production and turnover, licences are to be granted either by the Centre (i.e. by FSSAI) or by the respective state governments.
A majority of the licences and registrations are to be issued by the respective state governments. It is a challenge, and sensitising the state governments to the enormity of the task at hand would be taken up at all levels. We would also give them some assistance for strengthening the food safety infrastructure in the Twelfth Five-Year Plan.

What challenges do the authorities face while implementing the laws?
The challenges facing the Authority are primarily threefold: the sheer quantum of licensing and registration work to be undertaken by the state governments, upgradation/ strengthening of food testing laboratory infrastructure for monitoring and surveillance purpose and harmonisation of product standards with Codex, wherever feasible. Consumers are also important stakeholders and we are focussing on making them aware about the provision of the Act, its implementations and their role through various campaigns. A well-informed consumer can also help greatly in demanding safe food and spreading the message of food safety.

Are the authorities doing a satisfactory job of implementing the food safety regulations?

The six regulations that were notified by the authority on August 5, 2011, were all being implemented. The authority is also in the process of notifying some new regulations covering other areas.

What can the country expect from the health ministry in the coming years with respect to food safety?

The health ministry is aware about the importance of the food safety as an important lever of the national economy. Having an independent regulatory body such as FSSAI looking into these aspects will bring in focussed concerted action.

During the Twelfth Five-Year Plan, the ministry will strive to provide FSSAI with the requisite funds for it to focus on strengthening of enforcement structure in each state, creation of robust surveillance, upgrading of food safety laboratory infrastructure, capacity-building of the stakeholders in the food safety regulatory network, communication and awareness for consumers / FBOs / other stakeholders to help them make informed choices.

Is there any mechanism in place or proposed to look into complaints against FSSAI?
FSSAI has in place a well-defined process through which complaints against FSSAI can be made to them by logging on to their website, calling up the helpline or in writing to the senior officers of the Authority.
 
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