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Food safety stds focusing on safety rather than adulteration prevention
Saturday, 29 October, 2016, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Ashwani Maindola,New Delhi and Pushkar Oak, Mumbai
The Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, has changed the manner in which the food industry was working. The focus has changed from prevention of adulteration (which was the focus of the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954) to safety and quality.

This was stated by Pankaj Jaiminy, assistant vice-president (food, health and cosmetics), testing, certification and inspection, TUV SUD South Asia. He added that the regulatory framework governing foods was gradually evolving.

“Food research, product and process innovation and changes in consumer behaviour have facilitated the adaptation of food regulations. The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) is providing guidelines for all the aspects to safeguard consumers’ interest and aims to establish a single reference point for all matters related to food safety,” he said.

This has led to a considerable change in the approach of consumers. Jaiminy added, “This is driven by consumer awareness, and to that effect, organisations are trying to provide the best products in the market.”

“A collaborative approach towards ensuring the safety of food is the key to ensuring the growth of food businesses in India. Most stakeholders currently operated independently, where the challenges in day-to-day operations and implementations are not considered,” he said. Besides, the role of independent agencies also has come to fore in ensuring the food safety standards.

Jaiminy added, “TUV SUD closely works with regulatory bodies as well as food manufacturers to help them achieve parity in their operations. Our experts help companies accurately interpret regulatioms, thereby helping them operate smoothly within the realms of the various laws that are mandated.”

“We work with companies to ensure that they adhere to supply chain regulations and their food products are delivered in the best possible quality to the end consumer. The need of the hour is for businesses, regulators and certification agencies like TUV SUD to come together and come to a consensus with regards to the effective implementation of food safety regulations mandated by FSSAI,” he said. And the efforts are lauded by international bodies as well.

FSSAI made more rapid progress in the last one year than it had in the previous years. Although the foundation was laid during the previous four years, progress with respect to the formation of standards and its harmonisation with the Codex standards was sluggish. Only in recent times did the work gather pace.

Sagar Kurade, president, All India Food Processors’ Association (AIFPA), stated, “The approach has been to align the standards in India with the global ones.”

“Consumers now are treated at par with any modern space globally. FSSAI has been good in putting guidelines and taking the industry perspective into the standards and regulations. The intent is good, and in recent times, the industry has been involved in the process of deliberations. In the last one year, there was regular interaction between FSSAI and the industry, and as a result, the work on standards was more focused,” he elaborated.

Moreover, Kurade felt that there needed to be more clarification on the subjects of novel food, energy drinks, genetically-modified (GM) foods and ready-to-use therapeutic foods amongst others.

It started with the release of the list of 8,000 additives approved for the food industry, based on which 90 per cent of the food industry would not require any pre-approval for its offerings. There were more additions to the list, taking the number close to 12,000.

Besides making the list operational, FSSAI also released frequently-asked questions (FAQs) on proprietary foods that remained a serious bone of contention between the industry and the regulator. Recently, FSSAI also made the guidelines for proprietary food operational.

FSSAI also released draft notification on nutraceuticals, milk, edible oil, fat, alcoholic beverages, non-alcoholic beverages containing fruit juice, standards for non-specified food and food ingredients, e-commerce, extraneous material in pulses and food import regulations, amongst others.

More recently, the apex food regulator released the draft regulations on fortified foods, including atta, rice, edible oil, milk and salt.

Prabodh Halde, president, Association of Food Scientists and Technologists of India [AFST(I)], said,  “Several regulatory amendments have taken place at FSSAI, which has offered the food industry a platform to operate smoothly and enabled it to comply with the regulations, formulation and operations.”

“Some of the major developments include quality standards for instant noodles, pasta, fortified atta, fortified maida, durum wheat maida, quinoa, fortified rice, instant noodles, tapioca and sago. Such categories as alcoholic beverages, food fortification, silver warq, frozen vegetables and fruits, which were not covered, were undertaken by FSSAI,” he added.

“Since November 2015, FSSAI released around 28 notifications, which is in itself a great achievement,” Halde said.

Ashwin Bhadri, chief executive officer, Equinox Labs, said that FSSAI’s unified efforts towards harmonisation with Codex under the leadership of Ashish Bahuguna, its chairperson, and Pawan Kumar Agarwal, its chief executive officer, were applauded by Japan.

“Amendments regarding food additives, adulterants, bringing e-commerce entities under the FSSAI umbrella are major steps which will help achieve the aim of complete food safety in India,” he stated.

“Sixteen scientific panels - eight horizontal and eight vertical - are enlisted for carrying out all the regulatory work efficiently. They control different sections, businesses, food products and operational procedures,” Bhadri added.

“Apart from the advisory committees, there are others formed over the course of time for monitoring food imports, like the online food import clearance system (FICS), single-window integration for facilitation of trade (SWIFT), risk assessment cell, joint parliamentary committee on pesticide residues, etc.,” he said.

“One of the achievements in terms of international food safety was achieved in the last fiscal year. On October 5, 2015, a joint statement of intent was inked by FSSAI, the Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) and the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), Germany, on cooperation in food safety,” he said.

Before the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, there were nine different laws under different ministries. That created a lot of confusion. With one centralised law and one governing authority (FSSAI), its understanding and implementation by the food business operators (FBOs) has become easier.

This transition has been a revolution in the food industry of India. These standards cover most of the consumer food products, which has eased the life of FBOs. In the forthcoming years, more such amendments will bridge the loopholes existing currently.
New initiatives like this by FSSAI has impacted Indian food businesses in a very positive manner and made things smoother. With slow and steady steps, India is becoming more food sensitive, while FSSAI is ensuring that we eat safe food.

The e-commerce market has understood the significance of the law and has also ensured compliant vendors on their portals. The list of additives and the limits are of a great help to FBOs as they can now follow specific guidelines.

In a nation like India, which has more than one-third of the world’s stunted children, the rate has almost doubled in the past decade. India has one of the world’s highest demographics of children suffering from malnutrition as per the data provided by World Bank.

Hence, India needs a lot more to be done to tackle the menace of malnutrition; FSSAI standards for fortified foods ensures compliance with essential nutrients, which improves the health of the children who are going to lead our nation in future.

Also with FSSAI adding clarity over imports, experts feel that the ease of doing business is now more streamlined.

“FSSAI cracked a crucial milestone of food imports and making regulations in this regard. The system of imports was streamlined to operate with a single window for fast tracking the process of the clearances and obtaining certifications,” said Amit Lohani, convenor, Forum of Food Importers of India (FIFI).

“All the systems and allocations made in this regard are appreciated by the food industry as a whole, but at the ground level it is lacking implementation. A reality check or a review should be undertaken by the FSSAI that whether the system which was implemented by FSSAI is actually executed or not,” said Amit Lohani, convener, Forum of Indian Food Importers (FIFI).

“With regard to ensuring safety in imported foods at the points of entry, FSSAI authorised customs officials to carry out the work of the food safety officer (FSO). This led a positive dialogue between customs and FSSAI. At regular intervals, FSSAI and the customs department meet to spot issues on food safety at the point of entry,” he added.

Meanwhile, FSSAI set its roadmap to ensure safe food for all with its 10@10 initiatives launched on the occasion of completion of a decade of the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006.

The regulator has not only set goals to ensure safe food, but it also took a step ahead, taking into consideration imparting nutrition among masses through its recent regulations on fortified foods. Several new initiatives like food concern and food safety app, which are in tune with the current digital boom of smartphones, were also well addressed.
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