Module 1. Concepts of quality, safety and food laws

Lesson 5


5.1 Introduction

India has many laws regulating the food safety and other activities of food industry. The requirement of food regulation may be based on several factors such as whether a country adopts international norms developed by the CAC of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (UN) and the World Health Organization (WHO); good agricultural and manufacturing practices; or a country may also has its own suite of food regulations. Each country regulates food differently and has its own food regulatory framework.

The introduction of integrated food law provides the much required ‘one law-one regulator’ platform for raising the food safety standards of India to match global standards. Its speedy and effective implementation is quickly warranted to put India onto the global food map. This would require an enabling implementation environment focused on creation of transparency, awareness creation, capacity building, product traceability, developing right infrastructure and extensive R&D capacity so as to match the dynamically changing requirements of food safety and standards. The initiative would also require a wide spread awareness and promotion campaign focused on changing the mindset of food producers so as to encourage adherence to food safety standards.

5.2 Integrated Food Law in India

Until the recent past, the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1955 (PFA) was the main legislation concerning food safety and protection of consumer health. In addition, there were a number of other standards and acts administered by different governmental agencies. India has plethora of laws regulating the food safety and other activities of food industry. The requirement of food regulation may be based on several factors such as whether a country adopts international norms developed by the CAC of the FAO of the United Nations and the WHO; good agricultural and manufacturing practices; or a country may also have its own suite of food regulations. In order to give a boost to the food industry the need of the hour is to harmonize not only the various food laws but also the agencies. According to apex industrial bodies there should be only one national food safety code, which should cover all aspects of Indian food safety under a unified system. Realizing the importance of introducing an integrated, contemporary and comprehensive law, the Food Safety and Standards Act (FSSA), 2006, that overrides all earlier food laws.

This integrated law provides safe and wholesome food to the consumer, creates an enabling-environment for value addition to primary agricultural produce and encourage innovation and creativity for rapid development of food processing industries in an integrated manner thus ensuring a high degree of objectivity and transparency. The law intends to ensure better consumer safety through the introduction of food safety management systems based on science and transparency.

5.3 Main Features of the Law Include
  • Single reference point for all issues related to food safety and standards
  • Harmonization with international standards such as CODEX and, hence, responsive to international trade requirements
  • Responsive to dynamic issues such as genetically modified food
  • Clear procedures for food recall.
  • Shift from a regulatory regime to self compliance through food safety management systems
  • In addition, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) was set up in 2008 to lay down scientific standards and ensure availability of safe food for human consumption.
This Act covers all articles of food or drink for human consumption except drugs, tobacco, alcoholic beverages and natural agricultural/ horticulture/ marine produce. Measures to regulate the natural agricultural/ horticultural/ marine produce need to be notified separately. It will specifically repeal eight laws
  • The Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954
  • The Fruit Products Order, 1955
  • The Meat Food Products Order, 1973
  • The Vegetable Oil Products (Control) Order, 1947
  • The Edible Oils Packaging (Regulation) Order, 1998
  • The Solvent Extracted Oil, De oiled Meal, and Edible Flour (Control) Order, 1967
  • The Milk and Milk Products Order, 1992
  • Essential Commodities Act, 1955 relating to food

Fig. 5.1 Outline of integrated food law

5.3.1 Duties and functions of the authority

This Act established as new national regulatory body, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India, to develop science based standards for food and to regulate and monitor the manufacture, processing, storage, distribution, sale and import of food so as to ensure the availability of safe and wholesome food for human consumption. All food imports will therefore be subject to the provisions of the Act and any rules and regulations made under the Act.

FSSAI has been mandated by the FSS act, 2006 for performing the following functions
  1. Framing of regulations to lay down the standards and guidelines in relation to articles of food and specifying appropriate system of enforcing various standards thus notified.
  2. Laying down mechanisms and guidelines for accreditation bodies engaged in certification of food safety management system for food businesses
  3. Laying down procedure and guidelines for accreditation of laboratories and notification of the accredited laboratories.
  4. To provide scientific advice and technical support to central government and state government in the matters of framing the policy and rules in areas which have a direct or indirect bearing of food safety and nutrition
  5. Collect and collate date regarding food consumption, incidence and prevalence of biological risk contaminants in food, residues of various, contaminants in foods products, identification of emerging risks and introduction of rapid alert system
  6. Creating an information network across the country so that the public, consumers, panchayats (village parliaments), etc. receive rapid, reliable and objective information about food safety and issues of concern
  7. Provide training programmes for persons who are involved in or intend to get involved in food business
  8. Contribute to the development of international technical standards for food, sanitary and phyto-sanitary standards
  9. Promote general awareness about food safety and food standards
  10. Bakery manufacturer needs to follow up with food authority for labelling, adulterants, additives and their permissible levels, etc.
5.3.2 New changes in integrated food law

One of the primary changes that FSSA would bring about is imposing the responsibility of food safety on the manufacturer for the first time (under the PFA regime, it was the Food Inspector responsible for examination and prosecution). With the introduction of the supply chain concept under the FSSA, the focus will not be on inspection, but on each person in the chain-sourcing, manufacturing, storing, distributing- assessed by Food Safety Officers (FSOs). FSSA prohibits the manufacture, import, storage, sale or distribution of any such article of food which is unsafe, i.e. food whose nature, substance or quality is injurious to health. There are specific responsibilities laid down under the FSSA for the Food Business Operators (FBO) for ensuring the safety of food articles. FSSA extends its jurisdiction to all persons by whom food business is carried on or owned under the definition of FBOs. The FBOs are strictly liable for any article of food which is unsafe under the FSSA. The FSSA also provides for food recall procedures whereby an FBO is required to immediately inform the competent authorities and co-operate with them, if the food which he has placed in the market is unsafe for the consumers. FSSAI has recently notified the draft Regulations on Food Recall Procedure to provide guidance to the FBOs for carrying out food recall for food that does not adhere to the food safety standards. It is also aimed to establish an effective and efficient follow-up action/ post-recall report system.

The FSSA has also provided for appointment of a Designated Officer (rank of a Sub Divisional Officer) by the Commissioner of Food Safety to be in charge of food safety administration for a specific district whose duties shall include issuing or cancelling licenses of FBOs, serving ‘improvement notices’, prohibiting sale of food articles violating prescribed standards, receiving reports and samples of food articles from FSOs and getting them analysed, sanction or launch prosecutions and get investigated any complaint against any contravention of the Act or against the FSOs. Other major reforms in the pipeline to ensure safe food articles by FBOs are mandatory compliance with Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) for big retailers, organic food certification, stricter labelling and claims regulations covering the entire range of health foods, such as health drinks, packaged food products as well as nutraceuticals including dietary supplements, etc.

5.3.3 Implementation challenges

Introduction of the FSSA could be instrumental in boosting both domestic and international consumer confidence, and making India match the international standards of food safety. However, its effective implementation is fraught with numerous challenges such as:
  1. Poor general awareness towards the hazards associated with unsafe food practices and the best practices to be followed
  2. Lack of basic supporting infrastructure such as testing labs
  3. Insufficient technical expertise and skilled manpower for implementation of legislation at the grass root level
  4. Exclusion of primary producers from the purview of the law thus putting the onus of preventing food hazards on the manufacturers/processors
  5. Problems in traceability of product especially in the upstream processors of the food chain – from the farm gate to the processing unit
  6. Creating an enabling environment
5.4 Key Challenges for Speedy and Effective Implementation of Food Safety and Standard Act 2006

In a vast and diverse country such as India, the efforts to harmonize food safety regulations to match international standards are bound to face implementation challenges. It is thus imperative to create an enabling environment so that a brilliant strategy does not fail at the grass roots level. Some of the key enablers for speedy and effective implementation include

5.4.1 Transparency and inclusive development of framework

During the initial phases of the implementation of the FSSA, a high degree of transparency needs to be maintained in the process of framing rules and regulations. Involvement of industry and other stakeholders during the preparation, evaluation and revision of food law is essential for comprehensive review and examination of the issues that could hamper the implementation on field.

5.4.2 Awareness creation

Effective awareness creation programs need to be carried out by the Governmental agencies for smooth transition from the current food safety laws to the proposed system, specifically by keeping the small and medium enterprises abreast of the salient features of the law and practical issues that are likely to be faced by the manufacturers and their solutions.

5.4.3 Capacity building

Massive efforts are required for capacity building in order to successfully implement the proposed FSSA at the grass root level. Well evolved training programs need to be conducted for the state, district and block level enforcement agencies. The programs would have to equip the implementing officers with knowledge on international standards of food safety and quality thus enabling regulators to make judicious decisions relating to food contamination.

5.4.4 Infrastructure creation

One of the critical links in the successful implementation of FSSA is food testing laboratories. Under the new law the manufacturers need to get their products tested every month and keep a certificate. Hence, building up a sufficient number of accredited laboratories is of paramount importance.

5.4.5 Building research & development capacity

There is also a need to build a strong R&D base in areas of food safety, quality control, food toxicity and related scientific risk assessment systems.

5.4.6 Certification of raw material

One of the major sources of contamination in food systems occurs during the primary production stage - which is kept out of the ambit of the FSSA. Successful and holistic implementation of food safety system would require an extensive campaign that encourages implementation of GAP at the farm level. Further, organized manufacturers should be encouraged to take pro-active steps to ensure that GAP is adhered to their suppliers, and a traceability system including geographic application put in place at the back-end thus reducing the risk of food contamination.
Last modified: Saturday, 29 September 2012, 10:33 AM