SOCIAL MEDIA

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

10 profound findings in the Parliamentary Standing Committee report on the functioning of Indian FDA (FSSAI)


An overarching report (with 134 pages) on functioning of FSSAI was presented in Rajya Sabha on 09.08.2018

A committee comprising of legislative members was formed to evaluate the functioning of FSSAI under ministry of health and family welfare. As a scope of the study, the committee covered the overall governance structures, resource competencies, regulatory framework and laboratories. Pertaining to the methodology, It has adapted various tools to obtain information which include oral evidences, written submissions and responses to questionnaires from the subject matter experts, (FSSAI) leadership and stakeholders. Further, it also took cognizance of relevant websites, articles & documentation. We have obtained this document in the archives of Rajya Sabha sessions and a link is provided at the end of the article.
The neutral body report was meticulously drafted with detailed findings, pragmatic recommendations and even  contain accolades. Unfortunately, all the major media partners and even the Apex Body couldn't cover this news and hence on the eve of Independence Day, Smartcomplianz brings you the top 10 findings which would enhance consumer awareness on the food safety in India. Since, we strongly believe in the concept of consumer-driven economy.

Parliamentary Standing Committee report on FSSAI 
For the sake of presentation we have grouped the key findings and/or recommendations  as per the sections delineated in the report. 


Please click on the heading to view the findings in verbatim along with our summary

[accordion]
[item title="Accolades on leveraging IT in Enforcement"]

Committee Findings in verbatim - (3.59) The Committee appreciates the initiative of FSSAI in launching FoSCoRIS and recommends that it should be implemented by all the States/UTs. This platform has features like geo-tagging, time- stamping of inspections and real-time verification

Our Summary - Introduction of IT in the food safety application inspections is always essential. Advanced nations embraced the technology very early to stabilize their respective food safety frameworks  [/item]

[item title="Improvements in the Governance Structure"]

Committee Findings in verbatim - (1.7) The Committee is of the view that India as a welfare State has primary responsibility to take a key role in establishing a robust food safety mechanism for the welfare of its citizens but time and again the State has failed to address the same. The policies and the existing food laws are inadequate and are weakly enforced. This poor implementation of the Food Law has resulted in rampant food adulteration and various food scandals. Substandard quality food has been reaching the market and causing irreparable damage to public health. The fundamental right to pure food has been compromised and long since forgotten. Food Safety, nutrition and food security are intricately interlinked. Poor food safety infrastructure inadvertently poses a threat to public health as nutritious and safe food is fundamental to good health

Our Summary - This finding demonstrates the need for robust food safety mechanism to curb rampant food adulteration in the market. Right to safe food for every citizen is adrift due to inadequate enforcement. Also the committee opined that poor food safety infrastructure will peril public health. Please refer point (1.42) which also strengthen the above argument [/item]

[item title="Enhancing human capital and competencies"]

Committee Findings in verbatim - (1.20) It has been given to understand that FSSAI is presently operating with staff from state apparatus. The Committee opines that FSSAI cannot function to its optimum level without employing technical persons as permanent staff. The Committee recommends that FSSAI should be restructured and persons with domain knowledge and expertise in the food sector should be employed to run the organization.
(1.22) The Committee, therefore, recommends that the qualifications and procedures of selection and appointment of Chairman and CEO of FSSAI be reviewed so that the best professionals with domain expertise are selected for this onerous regulatory responsibility. While reviewing and modifying the process of selection and appointment of Chairman and CEO

Our Summary - Taking a cue from the above summary point 1, lack of stable staff along with inadequate competencies and experience is toppling the enforcement structure in the country. The committee upon consultation with various experts (refer point 1.21) recommended the selection of FSSAI leadership (especially Hon' Chairperson and CEO) should be based on relevant qualification along with science acumen and merely not a based on bureaucracy
[/item]

[item title="Transparency in selection of Central Advisory Committee (CAC)"]

Committee Findings in verbatim - (1.25) The Committee notes that as per the information available on the website of FSSAI, out of its 9 members of Central Advisory Committee (CAC) representing the interests of food industry, agriculture, consumers, relevant research bodies and food laboratories, 5 are from Delhi as in Annexure II. The ex-officio Chairman of CAC is also Delhi based which makes this number six. Given the fact that there are 24 chapters under trade laws dealing with food and scope of FSSAI and there is a vast pool of expertise available country-wide, this Delhi centric composition of CAC hardly represents various interest groups. The Committee feels that this factor is certainly depriving FSSAI of the sage advice and expertise of the immense talent present in the food sector in the country. This also leads the Committee to the conclusion that there is no transparent procedure for selection of members of CAC.

Our summary - The committee expressed concerns over the selection of central advisory committee and opined that FSSAI may not be using the immense scientific talent available in the country since the current selection is majorly limited to only Delhi region
[/item]

[item title="Unfulfilled Organization objectives"]

Committee Findings in verbatim - (2.3) The Committee notes that the first objective of FSSAI, is to lay down science based standards for articles of food and regulate their manufacture, storage, distribution, sale and import to ensure availability of safe and wholesome food. However, the indicators of food safety show that the objective of formation of FSSAI has not been fulfilled as the quality of food stuffs is deteriorating and use of contaminants is increasing day by day. Milk and food which were safe previously are no longer safe because adulteration and use of hazardous chemicals for artificial ripening of fruits and vegetables have witnessed tremendous increase in the recent past. The Committee observes that FSSAI has failed to assess the impact of the FSS Act on food safety and therefore recommends that FSSAI should systematically evaluate the performance of the FSS Act, its rules and regulations. Certain indicators need to be developed to measure the outcomes of the food safety policy and institutions.

Our summary - It is opined by the committee that the objective of formation of FSSAI has not been fulfilled as the quality of food is deteriorating along with proliferation of contaminants. The committee has cited usage of formalin in preserving fish, artificial ripening of fruits & vegetables and chemical contamination of milk (refer 5.10) as instances. Also, (2.30) explains about the inclusion of livestock feed under the FSSAI purview
[/item]

[item title="Abstaining connivance and corruption"]

Committee Findings in verbatim - (2.34) The Committee has taken cognizance of certain sting operations conducted by some TV Channels showing some food inspectors’ readiness to approve sub-standard products against payment of bribes or sometimes even manipulate food items if the supplier does not pay them bribe. Lack of an effective accountability mechanism for malpractices and provision of absolute discretion of food inspectors in the matter of picking up samples leaves the door wide open for corruption. There appears a clear nexus between corrupt food inspectors and unethical Food Business Operators. Once a food product is found to have violated food safety procedures by the Food Regulator, there is no effective recourse available because the appeal procedure is entirely internal and departmental and even a legal challenge is too slow to be effective. Taking into consideration the above, the Committee recommends that an anti-corruption unit be created to prevent food inspectors from engaging in bribery and extortion

Our Summary - The committee ascertains the need for a transparent enforcement practices by eradicating the exorbitant corruption practices and illicit nexus in the system
[/item]

[item title="Effective channels for stakeholder interaction"]

Committee Findings in verbatim - (3.40) The Committee is of the view that the importance of surveys cannot be underestimated and therefore, FSSAI should conduct timely surveys for the identification of food business operators. The Committee, therefore, recommends that both FSSAI and State Food Authorities must focus on conduct of surveys. The need of the hour is to augment the manpower who can conduct the survey at the Central as well as State level. Till the time, the required manpower is arranged, the FSSAI and the State Food Authorities can very well outsource the work of surveys to a third party.

Our Summary - Clearly, the committee lay down the need for the effective interaction with citizens in the forms of surveys as this information would help FSSAI to strengthen the governance
[/item]

[item title="Fostering risk based inspection"]

Committee Findings in verbatim - (3.51) The Committee recommends that a risk based inspection program should be inducted. The Inspectors should maintain a proper record of the inspections conducted. All the States/UTs should establish an electronic database of food failures and testing reports. The Committee would like to emphasize on creation of such an electronic database which will not only help in better monitoring of the Food Business Operators but also shift the present system of random inspections to focused surveillance

Our Summary - Lack of data on the nature of the non-compliance's and the mapping of the same with product categories is becoming detrimental for effective implementation of risk-based inspection program. Also as per point (3.49) in the report indicates that the officials should undergo a training on these aspects and ensure timely inspections with appropriate approaches
[/item]

[item title="Harnessing laboratories for effective food safety program"]

Committee Findings in verbatim - (4.21) The Committee is constrained to note that most food labs including those accredited by the NABL do not have facilities to test articles of food on all parameters. For food safety, the samples have to be checked for heavy metals contamination, pesticide residues, bacterial contamination, toxic chemicals etc.,
(4.24) The Committee also recommends that every laboratory recognised for food testing should be required to submit daily report online to FSSAI about the number of samples tested and the number of food articles found defective or unsafe

Our Summary - Laboratories are pivotal in the food safety governance. However, lack of proper audits and conflict of interest (consulting, training's and audits) is leading to prejudice. Hence, ineffective monitoring of these institutions would derail food safety. Instances of contradicting results for exported products and performing analysis out of NABL scope were cited to demonstrate the mediocre state of Indian laboratories and its analysis approaches
[/item]

[item title="Acclaims Fortification of food and other initiatives"]

Committee Findings in verbatim - (3.70) The Committee appreciates the FSSAI initiative for fortification of oils given the large scale micronutrient deficiency in the country. However, FSSAI needs to establish adequate infrastructure for testing the fortified oil and for this assistance should be taken from the different National Institutes working in the scientific field. Fortification of oil should be encouraged among the manufacturers with a proper monitoring mechanism of the fortified oil testing. Regular and timely inspections have to be conducted by the food authority. Moreover, there is need to conduct more research to find out the efficacy of vitamins pre and post usage in fortification of oil

Our Summary - Although, the study appreciates the efforts of FSSAI in promoting various initiatives it has advised FSSAI to develop the infrastructure to test such fortified products, which are currently lacking

[/item]
[/accordion]

Apart from the above, areas like ban selling of loose edible oil, strengthening  mobile testing, package drinking water issues, data on import rejections, resource augmentation and closing the loop of expired licenses are citied as areas of improvements. Also, noteworthy to mention that the Committee unanimously agreed upon the ban of GM food in India and however have diplomatically advised FSSAI to draft approval procedures for such foods. Recently, genetically modified has made news based on the findings by CSE

Further, this study and reporting took numerous interactions with the key stakeholders including FSSAI to reach a final shape. Hence, the reader of the final report will experience the phenomenon of déjà vu. This feeling is also evident because all the recommendations were already addressed by the Authority in the form of draft notifications, guidance documents and even press notes in the last one year.

Jai Hind!!

Please write to us at smartcomplianz@outlook.com for any specific details

(All content provided on this blog is for informational purposes only. The owner of this blog makes no representations as to the accuracy or completeness of any information on this site or found by following any link on this site)

Please note FSSAI, Apex Body, Regulator, Food Authority are being interchangeably used in the blog 

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