“ALL CHANGE IS NOT NECESSARILY PROGRESS” says a Chinese proverb
Does it apply to the new food act of India “Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006’(FSSA). The answer is an emphatic ‘NO”. The FSSA replaces the old food act .i.e “Prevention of Food Adulteration Act”(PFA) .The new Act symbolizes real progress in the food regulatory front and fulfillment of a much awaited need. Today we are on par with the international food regulations adopted by the most advanced countries-based on Codex Alimentarius.
Let us see ,what makes the new Act more contemporary.
Consolidating the above laws related to foods and covering the subjects under a single comprehensive Act ,FSSA,2006-to be administered by a single ministry dept. has reduced the confusion in the minds of consumers, traders, manufacturers and investors. The new act has provided a single food authority-“Food Safety and Standards Authority of India” (FSSAI)-a statutory body for food laws, standards setting ,and enforcement.
A unique feature of FSSA is the emphasis on laying down science based standards for articles of food .Now, the standards of food articles are not decided by a few members of the regulatory Authority, but by various scientific committees and Scientific panels comprising of eminent scientists, food technologists and independent food consultants-with the active involvement of the industry personnel in the discussions at various levels. The Food Authority has constituted 8 scientific panels consisting of independent scientific experts for providing scientific opinions. These include scientific panels for Functional foods, Method of sampling, Food additives, Contaminants, Biological hazards, Pesticides and antibiotic residues, Labeling and claims and Genetically modified foods.
Another unique feature of the new Act is the emphasis on transparency -in the dealings of Food Safety Authority. For example for the selection of the members of the scientific Committee (an important scientific body for providing scientific inputs to the FSSAI )and scientific panels, a well defined procedure is adopted. A Notice is issued inviting expression of interest from the scientists through the newspapers, websites ,and by directly contacting leading research and scientific institutions in the country. They are selected on the basis of their detailed biodata, publications, research record, and proven scientific excellence.
The Act also clarifies that “while framing regulations and specifying standards under this Act ,the Food Authority shall undertake risk assessment based on the available scientific evidence and in an independent ,objective and transparent manner”. The Act also mandates that the “Food Authority makes it public without undue delay the opinions of the Scientific Committee and scientific panels immediately after adoption and the results of the scientific studies conducted to ascertain the safety of a product”. This would certainly eliminate a lot of arbitrary decisions.
There is a change of nomenclature and the increased emphasis on ‘food safety’ rather than ‘prevention of adulteration’ ;the emphasis is more on self monitoring rather than control and punitive measures. For a change the enforcing authorities like “food inspectors’ are now referred to as “Food safety officers’ (sounds less frightening!) and the highest food Authority in the state is referred to as “Food Safety Commissioner’ .The person heading the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India is called the “Chairman of FSSAI’ and the person responsible for the legal and day to day activities of the FSSAI is called ‘Chief Executive Officer” (CEO)(Industry friendly terminologies ! ) .Thus,it definitely appears that the intention of the law makers is to provide a consumer and industry friendly legislation. The term ‘Food manufacturer ‘ has been replaced by a much broader term “Food Business Operator ‘(FBO) .
“Food Business’ has been defined as any undertaking ,whether for profit or not and whether public or private ,carrying out any of the activities related to any stage of manufacture, processing, packaging, storage, transportation ,distribution of food ,import, and includes food services, sale of food and food ingredients”. This has wider implications as everything from a marketed ‘ Britannia biscuit, to freely offered “Prasadam’ in a temple are covered under the definition of food and any defect in the quality in either of the product can attract prosecution including imprisonment.
Another new aspect of the FSSA Act is the need for permission for food business operators irrespective of the size and nature of the food business. Even a hawker, a vendor or a temporary stall holder should have a ‘food registration’ and should comply with food safety regulations. Other major food business operators should obtain a ‘Licence’ from the food authorities-by providing details of their manufacturing /storing /distribution details. For the first time ‘dual’ licensing authorities concept has been introduced i.e.For specified business and import activities license would be granted by the ‘Central,FSSA authorities while rest of them can obtain the licenses from the ‘State FSSA’ authorities.
A very interesting legal requirement of this Act is the “Product Approval”. Like in case of drugs ,there is a need to obtain ‘product approval’ for food products already marketed or intended to be marketed .There is a need to provide adequate safety and efficacy data, besides a govt. fee of Rs.25,000/= to get a product approval. Product approval is not mandatory for those products whose standards have been specified in the FSSA Act and regulations. (but they are limited to apprx.300 products ).This has caught the food industry by surprise and has lead to many representations from industry to the Government.
Graded punishment is something which is being introduced for the first time in food regulation and prosecution procedures. Provision of imprisonment for ‘misbranding’ and ‘substandard foods’ have been removed in the new food Act .This has brought a great relief to the food industry. ‘Imprisonment’ has been reserved for manufacturing and selling ‘unsafe; food products or carrying out food business without proper license. However penalties in terms of fines have increased many fold. For example :Penalty for importing or manufacturing “sub standard food’ is up to Rs. Five lakh. Penalty for manufacturing and storing ‘Misbranded food products’ is upto Rs.3 lakh. Penalty for misleading “advertisement’ could extend up to Rs.Ten lakh.
We hope with this new food law (FSSA) the Government would achieve its goal of satisfying both the consumers and the food industry and “.. ensure availability of safe and wholesome food for human consumption” as mentioned in the preamble of the act.