Food Adulteration—a grave issue

Food Adulteration—a grave issue

…testing needs to be done across the board

Hon’ble JK High Court taking suo-motto notice of food adulteration and noting subsequent GK news reports as PIL is being widely welcomed. The issue is grave; there cannot be two opinions about it. It touches people’s lives on a daily basis, hence judicial intervention is timely. There are infrastructural deficits in food administration.  The structured mechanism is not in tune with ‘Food Safety and Standards Act (FSSA) 2006’. The act sets norms for administrative hierarchy in food administration, which have not been abided by. It is the will of the state government that is questionable. The adage holds, ‘where there is a will, there is a way’.

 

Hon’ble Court has rightly observed that the latest status report filed by respondents is sufficient to indicate that people of the state have been left to mercy of God. The observation of the Hon’ble Court implies that Aam Admi figures in equation only when votes are needed. Otherwise there is no official compunction, even in as sensitive a matter as food adulteration, which could prove hazardous for people’s lives. In rare instances where officials do act, it is liable to end in an over-drive, where norms set by FSSA are not observed. It could be summed up as too little usually, and in rare instances too much. Either way norms are violated, as rationale is not adopted.   

 

In a statement that has ‘shaken’ the Hon’ble Court, the official administratively responsible has admitted that there is ‘no paraphernalia available in the state of Jammu and Kashmir in accordance with the mandate contained in provisions of Jammu and Kashmir Food Safety and Standards Act 2006.’ In spite of the admission however, J&K Food Control Organization (FCO) has resorted to banking on inadequately equipped food safety Lab here for testing samples instead of ensuring fool-proof scrutiny of samples outside the State. The plea advanced by the officials, in the present case Assistant Controller JK DFCO makes a poor case. “We are following the statutes of FSSA (Food Safety and Standards Act) 2011. It says that a sample can be sent to a lab other than the state lab only if the officer concerned is not satisfied with the test report,” so said the official. The official fails to explain how satisfactory could be the testing in the face of food commissioner’s admission and the observation of the Hon’ble Court, which was noticeably ‘shaken’ by the admission.

 

While it is appreciable that official machinery is getting activated after the Hon’ble Court considered subsequent reports by GK as reason enough for judicial intervention, the regret remains that food administration without infrastructural build-up may not be able to accomplish, what it needs to. The administrative hierarchy in place plus scientific structuring for effective monitoring of food products remain questionable.  

 

Milk samples collected were sent to what the Hon’ble Court observation noted as rickety laboratory facilities. Incidentally milk is an item in which Kashmir Valley is attaining a measure of self-sufficiency. While official supervision is highly appreciated, it may not lead to dampening the growing industry and discouraging entrepreneurship. The growing industry, one of rare success stories in valley is generating much needed employment. 

 

It is being alleged in business circles that norms entailed in FSSA 2006 are not followed in letter, some are even questioning the spirit behind the action taken. Selective leaks to media spark a media trial, much before the trial in the court of law. From the manner of sample collection to looping in the manufacturer to keep him informed of the charges levelled, much that is entailed in FSSA regulations remain far from being followed. FSSA lays down the number of specimens to be collected, obtaining the signature of the accused on the specimens, and providing the manufacturer the chance to get the questionable product tested in a certified laboratory on his own, in addition to testing undertaken by food administration. Cross checking by getting the product tested in more laboratories than one ensures fairness. The level of charge is also of importance in contemplating action. Charges may vary from lacunae in labelling the product to a product which is sub-standard, and ultimately to the product being potentially hazardous. 

 

While the Hon’ble Court has justifiably directed owners of food manufacturing and processing units to file affidavits indicating the manner in which they follow FSSA 2006, it is to be seen whether the court directive applies only to local manufacturers, leaving the ones with manufacturing units located outside the state out of its ambit? As such, more or less 95 percent food products marketed in JK State are from processing and manufacturing units located outside the state, hence there is justifiable apprehension in local business circles that the Hon’ble Court observations and directives might put them at a grave disadvantage, leaving out of  state manufacturing and processing units free to operate, as they may. It is to be expected that in follow-up of the case, the Hon’ble Court would take a comprehensive look to allay the fears of local manufacturers. 

 

Yaar Zinda, Sohbat Baqi [Reunion is subordinate to survival]

 

(The author is doctor in medicine, a social activist, and a senior columnist)