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World Food Safety Day 2021 – Is our food safe enough?
Monday, 07 June, 2021, 12 : 00 PM [IST]
Ashim Sanyal
Food safety is a shared responsibility between governments, producers and consumers. This year’s global theme is, ‘Safe food today for a healthy tomorrow’. Safe food is essential to promote the health of consumers and to end hunger, two of the 17 main UN Sustainable Development Goals. The food we eat is kept safe through the dedicated efforts of everyone who grows, processes, transports, stores, sells, prepares and serves it. Economic growth, rising incomes, and urbanization have influenced Indians’ eating habits. There is increased demand for greater variety in food choices, and Indians are becoming more concerned about food quality and safety. 

According to 2015 global estimates of food borne diseases, “the risk of food borne diseases is most severe in low-and middle-income countries, linked to preparing food with unsafe water; poor hygiene and inadequate conditions in food production and storage; lower levels of literacy and education; and insufficient food safety legislation or implementation of such legislation”.

Economic Burden of food borne diseases
A 2019 World Bank report, estimated that unsafe food costs in India were as high as $15 billion annually, even though it almost halved from $28 billion estimated in 2018, underlining the "unnecessarily high" economic burden caused by food borne diseases.
The government therefore should also pay greater attention to developing the relevant institutional and human resources needed to monitor food safety more effectively. The FSSAI (Food Safety and Standards Authority of India) establishes a national standard, but administration (including licensing, prosecutions for non-compliance, etc.) is carried out at the state level. Compared with the comprehensiveness of and details in food safety laws, the availability and accessibility of food labs needed to implement and enforce food safety laws varies considerably by region. There are too few specialists with the knowledge and experience required for administering food safety. 

A systems-based approach can ensure food safety along with their secure availability, promoting a healthy diet along with taking care of the environment through sustainable practices. Citizens should choose healthy and nutritious food and the food industry should manufacture and provide the same. There is often, on a global scale, a lacuna in awareness of consumers about food safety matters associated with a lack of organized mobilization of consumer groups and interests. This implies basically a capacity building approach. 

The term “food law” applies to legislation which regulates the production, trade and handling of food and hence covers the regulation of food control, food safety, quality and relevant aspects of food trade across the entire food chain, from the provision for animal feed to the consumer. A detailed assessment of these standards in milk and vegetables indicates that while all regulatory norms base their criteria on the international standards of the Codex Alimentarius Commission (FAO), it is difficult for food suppliers to follow all the mandatory regulations and difficult for customers to discern the differences in food labeling. 

Food Regulations in India

The various Food Regulations in India can be broadly classified into - Licensing and Registration, Packaging  & Labeling,  Food Standards,  Food Additives,  Contaminants & Toxins, Prohibitions and Restrictions, Laboratory sampling and Analysis. While issues related to meeting availability of food and the nutritional adequacy of the diet are being addressed, public awareness of food safety issues has increased dramatically in developing countries.

FSSAI has taken a series of measures including stringent packaging and labelling norms, regulation of restaurant and street food as well as inspections and sampling of food products to ensure quality of food in India.

To improve public health in India and combat negative nutritional trends to fight lifestyle diseases, FSSAI launched 'The Eat Right Movement’ on 10th July, 2018.The Eat Right India movement is an initiative of the Government of India and the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) to transform the country's food system in order to ensure safe, healthy and sustainable food for all Indians. Eating right is important to staying at a healthy weight and keeping an energy balance, the balance between the calories in what you eat and drink, and calories you burn when moving.

Measures to improve food safety
Goals targeted with Eat Right India Movement are broadly - Make India trans-fat free India by 2022, Reduce India’s Salt Consumption, Intake of sugar in the daily diet should be cut down & Consumption of oil should be tracked and reduced.

Indian policy-makers are trying to curtail the rising consumption of processed foods that are high in fat, sodium, and sugar. Front-of-pack nutrition labeling is widely considered to be a powerful and simple tool for discouraging consumption of processed foods with HSSF. FSSAI is considering implementing symbol-based front-of-pack warning  labeling, which they intend to make mandatory. According to the proposed FOPL regulation, if the total amounts of calories, fats, sugar, and salt exceed the stipulated limits, it would be indicated in red color. However, there are some concerns regarding the proposed labeling format. This will be hopefully in line with global best practices. In the context of safe foods, the definition has changed over a period of time and so has the consumer awareness on health issues with the rise of NCDs. 

(The author is COO of Consumer VOICE)
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