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Food safety should touch people: Dr V Prakash
Friday, 26 February, 2010, 13 : 00 PM [IST]
Our Bureau, Mumbai
Science, innovation and food safety should touch people. Farmers in India are not even aware of what Codex is, so demanding adherence to safety codes from this lot is unreasonable. It is important that Codex is translated in the local languages to make it reach the grassroot India.

This piece of wisdom came from Dr V Prakash, director, CFTRI, Mysore. Dr Prakash and Dr Darsh Wasan, vice-president, IIT, Chicago, were addressing the plenary session of the CII organised US-India Symposium on Food Processing Technologies for Food Safety and Innovation in Mumbai.

The US National Academy of Engineering (USNAE), Indian National Academy of Engineering (INAE), Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) and Protein Foods and Nutrition Development Association of India (PFNDAI) were the co-sponsors of the symposium.

They broadly addressed the issue of food safety and science-based research and food chain during the times of globalisation.

Dr Prakash in his enthralling 20-minute address said that food safety had to be looked at holistically and at a macro level. Food hazards have become mobile in the wake of widespread global sourcing, food distribution and human travel. Thus, globalised safety patterns should fit the individual needs.

He said that safety had two perspectives, the industry and consumer perspective. And a typical food safety system had three aspects, viz prevention, accountability and integration into the chain. What was essentially neglected was the fourth aspect, i.e. risk assessment. More and more institutes should look at the risk assessment aspect of the food product. Thankfully, institutes like CFTRI and IIT are moving in the direction. Also, these institutes needed to have multiple modes of transferring knowledge down the line, reaching the villages and cottages in India.

With the wave of dietary supplements, energy drinks, health supplements and such others on rise, the room for confusion was even more. In this scenario, successful industry and regulatory efforts were needed to be combined with widespread public awareness, and backed by science and technology. In functional foods, understanding how functional foods were designed and regulated could increase the chances of success in the market place.

Most of the agri-business now needed to come up with agendas, given the shortage of food, unpredictability of rains and value addition of food taking place in the country. Preparation of a strategic network with an in-depth awareness had become vital in meeting the challenge of safety. More and more engineers should be motivated to enter the field of food processing and safety.

Also continuous R& D at basic level was important. To constitute a good R&D base for India, the involvement of the government, R& D institutes like the CFTRI, industry, people and market was required. The task was not easy.

The involvement of consumers could come from a simple thing like reading a label. Consumers many a time were not aware of the scientific language used on labels. They needed to be taught to read labels. Plus, innovation in labelling would be needed to encapsulate all information required. The green dot for vegetarian and the red dot for non-vegetarian food items was one such innovation.

Dr Prakash said that too much standardisation left very little scope for innovation, So innovation must first come up and standards should be adopted later.

It wasn't for no reason that Dr Kurien while designing the roadmap for white revolution started the practice of pasteurisation of milk and not sterilisation, as he knew that most of the Indian homes boiled the milk before consumption. It thus becomes important to take the culture into consideration while making a safety plan.

Another interesting thought shared by Dr Prakash was preventing chemistry to dictate the terms of food safety. In competing with the global products both chemical and biological angle of food safety should be defined giving more weightage to the biological one.

Value addition was another area Dr Prakash stressed on. Value addition should incorporate nutrition and safety. He said that value addition to agro-based raw material was a must.

With the coming of GMO, traceability became another important feature under food safety. Dr Prakash backed the moratorium imposed by union environment and forest minister Jairam Ramesh and said it was much needed as quality was more a dynamic aspect than a static one and had to be looked at in a complete chain.

The most important aspect of food safety according to Dr Prakash was water and it needed to be given a top priority.

Bacteriophage as a weapon for food safety was unexplored. More studies could be directed towards the same.
 
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