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INTERVIEW

“Panel to look at issues related to norms, changes”
Monday, 19 December, 2016, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), the apex food regulator of the country, in recent times has moved to act as a facilitator than as a regulator. Though there has been a shift in its style of working, the apex body is striving to uphold the regulatory standards in the country by formulating norms and issuing clarifications on subjects of contention such as proprietary foods and nutraceuticals. Recently, the FSSAI, on completion of 10 years of its existence, started work on building a better rapport with the Indian food business.

Pawan Kumar Agarwal, chief executive officer, FSSAI, in an email interaction with Ashwani Maindola, delves deeper into FSSAI’s efforts in changing the food landscape of the country with measures like formulating norms and improving rapport. Excerpts:

Recently you spoke about reviewing FSS Regulations with regard to standards and a panel looking into it. Elaborate.
What we are saying is that in vertical standards of food regulations, there may be some shortcomings or gaps or overlaps. So, we are creating a panel of food businesses and stakeholders to look at the entire set of vertical standards, commodities-wise and then suggest what new standards are required, what standards are overlapping and what standards should be done away with. So this becomes an input for the scientific panel and we’re in the process of formulating this. We have asked them to submit their suggestions or recommendations etc. in next couple of months. Depending on experience, we would continue with this panel because whatever standards we form, we should have a mechanism to connect with FBOs whether these are pragmatic standards or not. Our scientific committees are also meeting quite often to look into the subject.

There was a demand for third-party certification and auditing. What is FSSAI’s take on the issue?
We’re working on regulations on third-party audit of food businesses, for which there will be process of empanelment of such auditors, either food audit companies or individuals. And depending on the risk of different kinds of food businesses, there will be periodicity of the auditing. Higher risk categories will be the focus. So we may not bring low risk and very small business within the ambit of this compulsory third-party audit. Of course, other businesses are at liberty to get themselves audited.

We're also discussing with NABCB (National Accreditation Board for Certification Bodies) on the issue. Besides, we’re having discussion with companies who’re in the sphere of auditing food business.

What is the progress with respect to 10 at 10 initiatives?
A lot of work in order to roll out these schemes has been done. In some cases, some states have launched some schemes. In Goa, street food vendor programme, restaurant food safety programme were launched, in Orissa safe and nutritious food at schools will be launched. CII initiative of Surakshit Khadya Abhiyan has been aligned with 10 at 10 initiative. So we would expect a lot activities starting across the country in coming months.

FSSAI has recently launched a food fortification programme, which is now moving towards packaged food. Why?
We want to promote fortified food in packaged food as well, as apart from wheat, rice and milk, we also eat a lot of packaged food. So, why not promote fortified packaged food?

Packaged food fortification programme is particularly about the logo - who and when the logo can be used for fortified food. The complete set of guidelines will be out soon, because in case of packaged food, as it's a broad category unlike rice, wheat etc. to determine what quantity should be there. It may be ingredients-based approach and if the ingredients are fortified, it can be termed as fortified food and use the logo or there should be RDA-based approach, whatever are the daily allowance for the particular nutrient available in that food.

Licensing and registration was a much talked about subject among officials of FSSAI as well as FBOs and in the month of August the deadline ended. So with no extension, how are you ensuring the FBOs get licences and register themselves?
I think, if consumers start asking for FSSAI licences on packaged food items or from FBOs in their premises, automatically the FBOs will be pushed to get these licences. We need to increase our presence amongst consumers. We have seen exponential rise in that in recent times. We also have a link for food concern and we’re getting fair number of responses. We’re also taking up these queries with state governments. Like some queries were about food safety and others related to licensing and registration.

Secondly the FBOs should find some value in getting these licences. We have to make them aware that there is some value in it for them. We are working more on these two aspects than some special drives.

We have to facilitate them to get licence and registration. Once these things are in place, we do hope all FBOs will come for that. We are not terribly concerned about this because all big and medium food businesses are already operating under licences.

There was a demand from some quarters to review definition of FBO and there are concerns about overlapping of laws like those pertaining to Legal Metrology department. Give your views.
As regards review of definition of FBOs, it is a matter of change of law which will be done when the government desires, but as FSSAI we would like to focus on such FBOs which cause higher food risk.

Also we have had detailed discussion with department of metrology (with regards to the overlapping of laws) and we have reconciled these differences. Now there is no issue with them. The notification is not under implementation now.
 
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