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VCOs create NetCOFaN, network for food safety & nutrition, with FSSAI
Monday, 16 December, 2019, 12 : 00 PM [IST]
Our Bureau, New Delhi
Credible voluntary consumer organisations (VCOs) decided to create a nation-wide network of consumer organisations for food safety and nutrition (NetCOFaN) with the support of FSSAI. This network will initially work in three specific areas, namely awareness and training, mobilisation of small and petty food businesses for various schemes, and food testing and surveillance.

This decision was taken by the country’s apex food regulator in a workshop at New Delhi with representatives of over 80 VCOs.

In order to earn consumer trust, FSSAI has decided to get food testing done through the consumer organisations. The food safety law provides for reimbursement of testing fees if a consumer sample fails. However, this provision has never been used due to some practical difficulties.

With a view to address these difficulties, the regulator decided to authorise these VCOs to assist consumers in getting such tests done. The reimbursement of testing fees, in such cases, will be done even if the consumer sample does not fail.

FSSAI has a large volume of high-quality content on food safety and nutrition. The VCOs, with their ground-level connect will use this content for awareness and training programmes by translating and adapting it to the local conditions.

The on-ground presence of VCOs will help reach the messages to local areas across the country. Their support will also be taken to mobilise small and petty food businesses to participate in hygiene rating, cluster certification and food safety training and certification (FoSTaC) programmes.

VCOs will be provided a Food Safety Magic Box, that has over 100 simple do-it-yourself (DIY) tests for common adulterants and a kit for testing in the midday meal scheme.

Supported by FSSAI, the VCOs can play an important role in food testing and surveillance activities. To kick-start this, the regulator has partnered with Delhi-based Consumer Voice for conduct of surveillance for safety and quality of milk products in Delhi-NCR area.

For this purpose, samples of paneer, khoya and desi ghee and other milk products were picked up recently from Delhi-NCR area by volunteers of Consumer Voice with the support of the state food safety authorities.

These samples were coded by Consumer Voice and tested in FSSAI’s National Food Laboratory at Ghaziabad. The results of this surveillance would be compiled soon and shared with all concerned. Preventive and corrective action would then be initiated jointly by Consumer Voice and the state food authorities.

An evidence-based point system has been put in place to monitor the work of the VCOs and they would be provided token funding based on activities to ensure sustainability and continuity.

FSSAI earlier asked the top 200 food companies to appoint nodal persons for consumer grievances. These persons have been trained for effective consumer grievance redressal. The apex regulator would now explore ways of using the services of VCOs in the effective redressal of consumer grievances.

Expressing gratitude for the enthusiastic response of VCOs from across the country and their decision to form NetCOFaN, Pawan Kumar Agarwal, chief executive officer, FSSAI, said, “The VCOs are key part of the system to build an atmosphere of trust, transparency and accountability in the area of food safety and nutrition.”

He hoped that VCOs will themselves take up this work with full responsibility and accountability and provide last-mile connectivity to the consumers.

Pushpa Girimaji, an expert on consumer issues, who was present at the workshop, said, “Consumer organisations can play a vital role in ensuring food safety in the country.”

She added that the creation of network would help to build synergies amongst them, and was a very innovative way of FSSAI in reaching out to the consumers across the country.
 
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