The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG)does not seem to spare any department of the government. This time, it was turn of Food Safety & Standard Authority India (FSSAI) (under Health Ministry) to face the wrath. The Comptroller and Auditor General of India report on Performance audit No. 37 of 2017 of the Implementation of Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 was tabled in Parliament on 19-12-2017.
CAG does not seem to be, to put it mildly, happy with the vision and performance of the FSSAI, the custodian of Indian health ensuring quality of food products to be consumed by every Indian; this despite the everyday news and claims of the achievements made by FSSAI and its Authorities.
The main findings of the CAG report included:
– systemic inefficiencies, delays and deficiencies in the framing of various regulations and standards,
-amendments to regulations in violation of the Act and specific directions of the Supreme Court.
– ill equipped state food laboratories entrusted with food testing and certification functions, and not possessing the National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories (NABL) accreditation
-Inadequate enforcement activities relating to licensing, registration, inspection, sampling and prosecution
-Failure to finalise the recruitment regulations and irregularities in the appointment of contractual employees
Sir, what is left? Definitely not a good report on the performance of FSSAI; Almost every aspect of the functioning of FSSAI has been criticized by no other than CAG of India.
As expected, FSSAI was neither happy nor amused with such a report. To put it in a plain language they were angry; probably felt victimized for no fault of theirs! It is OK for CAG to criticize the govt. depts. for mishandling 2G, (ministry of communications &IT). But blaming a sacrosanct Food regulatory body like FSSAI & its functioning; not done! But unfortunately, the CAG report, is based, as usual, on facts & figures and not perceptions.
The very next day (on 20-12-2017) FSSAI issues a press release –rebutting each and every allegation made by CAG. (Yes, If there is a need, we (govt. depts) can definitely act very fast!) Interestingly the preamble of the FSSAI note says “FSSAI assures citizens that they can trust food they get. FSSAI is confident that the country’s food safety ecosystem is well on the way to become more robust and globally benchmarked in the years to come”
Expected response! Removing the misgivings, if any, in the minds of the valued citizens of India on account of CAG’s report. You & me, need not worry. Nothing has gone wrong on the food front! Very reassuring!
There was an excellent attempt on the part of FSSAI to respond to each and every point raised by CAG. For example, I reproduce below (partly) the response of FSSAI on CAGs criticism of “delays and deficiencies in the framing of various regulations and standards, amendments” …
“…… FSSAI has notified nearly 9000 provisions for use of around 400 food additives in various food categories, several of which address the majority of issues related to product approval after the discontinuation of the product approval system. These include interalia, Regulations on Health Supplements and Nutraceuticals, Approval for Non-Specified Food and Food Ingredients Regulations and Import Regulations. Majority of Directions issued under section 16(5) of the Act have been brought into the fold of regulations……. FSSAI has notified 4 principal regulations; 7 new regulations which are at various stages of finalization; and 59 amendments to various regulations since 2015”.
Does it really answer the CAG s query?
FSSAI press note, at the end concludes with the following statements “FSSAI appreciates the inputs from CAG to improve performance of food safety. CAG report should however be seen in the context of the huge and complex task at hand and the fact that FSSAI is new an evolving organization and it faces severe constraints of manpower and resources. It would have been useful if the report had noted a lot of very useful work done by the FSSAI over years that has helped to raise the profile of food safety in the country significantly in recent years. Nevertheless, FSSAI continues to be committed to raise the bar for food safety and hygiene in the country so that citizens can trust food they get in the marketplace.”
FSSAI seems to have got hurt rather than angry at the comments of CAG. For a change FSSAI was at the receiving end! Cannot protest violently like any opposition party; protocol has to be maintained. It may not be wise to be too critical of CAG.
Anyway, from the CAG report submitted to the Parliament on FSSAI and the subsequent press release as a response by FSSAI one can safely conclude:
a) FSSAI has to do a lot of home work to clear the mess in the food regulation.
b) Though FSSAI ‘s intentions are noble, they have not achieved the desired goal even after 12 years; they need to pause & introspect.
I would summarize the problem of FSSAI as too many regulations; too many amendments: too much of hurry; too much of confusion. It is a classic case of “biting off more than one can chew”
One humble suggestion to FSSAI: At least for one year please do not issue any new gazette notification ,new amendment or new draft notification and let the food industry understand , assimilate and sincerely follow the numerous regulations/amendments/advisories which have been already published. Let us pause for a while. As it is rightly said “Great haste makes great waste” and “too much hurry will bury our goals”.
Dr Ravindra Shetty (August 2018)
Details of the CAG report & Press release from FSSAI are available on FSSAI site