Now, food consumers can act against adulterators

Last Updated: Sunday, August 7, 2011 - 12:06

New Delhi: Consumers will now have the power
to take adulterators of food products to task as the first
time in the history of food inspection in India, buyers have
been empowered to take samples, get those tested and lodge
complaints for prosecution of accused.

The move forms part of the transition from the old system
where eight sets of regulations governed varied food products
to a new regime which provides a unified law to regulate the
entire range of food products in the market.

The Food Safety and Standards Act passed by Parliament in
2006 is in operation across India from August 5. The law took
time to roll as standards for implementation were being
developed.

In its present form the Act will for the first time cover
nutraceuticals, the term used to describe food products with
medical and health benefits to people.

All nutrition supplements, health and functional foods,
which dieticians and fitness trainers routinely administer to
people, will also be regulated and their safety mandated.

The law also fixes, unlike in the past, the time limit
for prosecutions after a complaint has been lodged with the
food inspector. Trial has to begin within a year from the date
of commission of offence. The provision assumes importance as
one lakh food related cases are pending in courts.

Under the Act, stringent provisions of penalty is
entailed and violators will can be penalised for penalty of a
maximum of Rs 10 lakh and/or life imprisonment.

Among various violations considered under the law include
food contamination, unsafe and sub-standard food, carrying out
business without a licence, providing false information,
unhygienic manufacturing or processing, mis-branding,
violations of standards, misleading advertising, food
containing extraneous matter, possessing of adulterants and
failure to comply with food safety officer, besides penalty
for contravention for which no specific penalty is provided.

With Health Ministry notifying enabling regulations of
the law, it is in force in India and will work through the
Food Safety and Standards Authority of India which was
established in 2008 to develop standards for implementation of
the Act.



The 21-member Food Authority will have representatives
from the seven ministries of Health, Agriculture, Food
Processing, Commerce, Consumer Affairs, Small-scale industry
and Legislative Affairs, besides representatives from the food
industry, consumer organisations, food technologists and
scientists, farmer organisations, retailer organisations and
states.



In the states, the Act will be implemented through food
safety commissioners. As many as 22 states have already
appointed these commissioners and the rest are in the process.



The new law integrated all eight old food related
regulations, namely Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954,
Fruit Product Order 1955, Solvent Extracted Oil, De-oiled Meal
and Edible Flour (control) order, 1967, Meat Food Products
Order 1973, Edible Oils Packing, 1998, Vegetable Oil Products
Order, 1988 and Milk and Milk Product Amendment Regulations
2009.



Its most revolutionary provision is involvement of
consumers to fix irresponsible food sellers. "People can take
samples and get them tested, and in case they are adulterated,
prosecution can be launched by the Designated Officer, namely
food inspectors in districts," said a top FSSAI official.
Designated officer would have to dispose of any complaints
within two months from the date of application.



Another important part of the law is that it will
emphasise safety of the entire food chain and not that of the
final food product alone as the PFA did. Under the FSS Act,
those in the business of any kind of food will be called food
business operators who will be held responsible for the supply
of safe food to consumers.



"Food testing labs in the country will be upgraded to
NABL standards and services of private NABL accredited labs
for testing food samples will also be taken," said V N Gaur,
chief executive officer of FSSAI.

Four food testing laboratories have already been taken
over by the FSSAI which was established in 2008 to develop
standards under the 2006 law. Two more labs are currently
under acquisition of the Authority.



The Act also envisages to reduce the gap on food testing
labs. Work to upgrade 50 of the 72 labs is underway and the
Food Authority hopes to upgrade one food lab in each state
within a year.



The FSSAI will also be responsible for laying science
based standards for food articles, regulate their manufacture,
storage, distribution, sale and import.



It will also frame regulations to lay down standards and
guidelines for food items and specify an appropriate system of
enforcing various standards besides specifying mechanisms for
accreditation of bodies engaged in certification of food
safety management system for food businesses.



A major part of the Authority`s responsibility would be
will collection and analysis of data regarding food
consumption, incidence and prevalence of biological risk,
residues of contaminants in foods products, identification of
emerging risks and introduction of rapid alert system. The
data will help implement the unified law.



"The new law puts in place a unified structure for all
food safety related matters in the form of FSSAI at the Centre
and Commissioners of Food Safety at the state level," said
Gaur.



"Other new functionaries defined by the statute are
designated officers, the SDMs, at district level, food safety
officer at cutting edge level, adjudicating officer, special
courts and appellate tribunal for speedy disposal of cases,"
Gaur explained further.



PTI



First Published: Sunday, August 7, 2011 - 12:06

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