Zero Tolerance for Unsafe Foods in Indian Market-FSSAI

Food watchdog released data on enforcement efforts, 3.7% food found unsafe last year

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New Delhi: FSSAI, the food regulator of India, has said there will be zero tolerance for unsafe foods in the market. Food watchdog released data on enforcement efforts, 3.7% food found unsafe last year. There has been86% increase in criminal cases launched.

Data released include samples analysed, non-conforming samples, cases launched, convictions and penalties by States/UTs during the year 2018-19 and also trends over the past 3 years.

According to the data released, during the year 2018-19, a total of 1, 06, 459 samples were analysed. While 3.7 % of these samples were found to be unsafe, 15.8% were found to be sub-standard and 9% samples had labelling defects. This is the first year the data has been compiled for unsafe, substandard and labelling defects separately.  This would help support food safety authorities to take precise corrective and preventive action. While, there should be zero tolerance to unsafe food, issue of sub-standard and labelling defects require greater efforts on capacity building of food businesses and food standards as well as labelling requirements.

There has been a 7%increase in the number of samples analysed during 2018-19 as compared to 2017-18. 25% more samples were found non-conforming compared to the previous year. This shows that there has been better targeting of enforcement efforts by States/UTs in the country.

There has been a 36% increase in civil cases launched and a 67% increase in the number of cases where penalties were imposed. The amount of penalty imposed has increased by 23% during 2018-19 compared to the previous year. A total amount of Rs. 32.58 crore has been realised during 2018-19.

As far as criminal cases are concerned, there has been86% increase in criminal cases launched. Since the conclusion of criminal cases takes time, a total of 5198 cases were concluded during 2017-18 that included a backlog of previous years. During the year there have been 701 convictions in criminal cases so far.

Ten States/UTs that have performed well include Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Jammu & Kashmir, Delhi and Chandigarh.

Ten States that have performed poorly include Chattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Assam, Jharkhand, Odisha, Rajasthan, West Bengal, Telengana, and Uttarakhand.

Many of the poorly performing States have not been able to put in place full-time officers for food safety and do not have proper food testing laboratories despite the food safety law coming into force overa decade ago.

Food safety issues extend beyond food adulteration as it is often believed by most people in India. Food borne Disease Burden Epidemiology Reference Group of the World Health Organization has identified 31 food borne hazards. In its first estimates of the incidence, mortality, and disease burden, this group has found that the global burden of food borne diseases (FBD) is comparable to those of the major infectious diseases, HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.

The most frequent causes of food borne illness were diarrheal disease agents, particularly norovirus and Campylobacter spp. Diarrheal disease agents, especially non-typhoidal Salmonellaenterica, were also responsible for the majority of deaths due to FBD. Other major causes of FBD deaths were Salmonella Typhi, Taenia solium and hepatitis A virus.

The global burden of FBD caused by the 31 hazards in 2010 was 33 million – Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALYs); children under five years old borne 40% of this burden, although they represented only 9% of the global population. These facts call for urgent action by all stakeholders to improve food safety throughout the food chain with more coordinated efforts and greater focus.

Expressing satisfaction over improved enforcement, Pawan Agarwal, CEO, FSSAI, said that ‘More rigorous enforcement by States is essential to build public trust in food. He admitted that public trust has been eroded in recent times due to fake news creating widespread perception of large-scale adulteration in the country’.

He added, ‘FSSAI is working with States and UTs, particularly with weaker ones in this regard. For this, FSSAI is increasing the capacity of State food laboratories and enabling use of private food labs for testing food samples. Enforcement efforts have to better targeted and preceded by surveillance efforts to identify hotspots and problem areas’.

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