Kashmir's only food testing lab shut

The only food testing laboratory in Kashmir division has been decommissioned by the Food Safety and Standards Association of India (FSSAI) for failing to get accreditation by the national lab regulating body.

FSSAI has included Public Health Laboratory Dalgate Srinagar in the list of labs across India that will not be allowed to carry out any food testing from December 31, 2020. The reason for discontinuation of permission to carry out testing is due to the failure to apply for accreditation by National Accreditation Board of Laboratories (NABL) on or before 15 November 2020, the order states. In the same order, permission has been extended to the Public Health Laboratory Patoli Mangotrian in Jammu to do testing.

Resultantly, the Drug and Food Control Organisation J&K has directed its Kashmir division enforcement staff to send the samples it lifts for analysis and testing to Jammu, instead of Dalgate lab “with immediate effect”.

Commissioner Food Safety, Shakeel ur Rehman Rather blamed the delay in inspection by NABL on the Covid pandemic. He said the lab has already applied for accreditation but inspection could not be carried out and as a result the equipment that has been added to the lab is yet to be calibrated. “We have reapplied with fresh documentation and we would soon be considered again,” he said, while assuring that “by February 2021”, the lab would be started again. He said the department is in talks with Indian Institute of Integrated Medicine Srinagar (IIIM). “If that materializes, we may be testing our samples from Kashmir in Srinagar only, rather than Jammu,” he said.

However, the failure to ensure that the crores that have been spent on the food testing lab in Kashmir yield results has been seen in a bad light by the stakeholders. It was after a series of stories by the Greater Kashmir about the gross shortage of mechanisms to ensure food safety in Kashmir and its resultant effect on health of people here, that J&K Government in 2017 had set into motion and allocated funds for upgrading of the infrastructure.

A senior official in the health and medical education department said that upon suo moto cognizance by J&K High Court, the Government was directed to take continuous measures to ensure that consumers have access to edibles that have been duly checked for impurities, adulterations and conform to quality standards. The Government, he said, in the past two years, has spent over Rs 10 crore over purchases of high-end testing equipment for the Kashmir’s only food testing lab located at Dalgate Srinagar.