Special Issue
 



Subodh Kant Sahai
Minister for Food
Processing Industries
We have already passed a law that will look into the quality and standard of food. A separate authority is also in place to control
the entire process.
A healthy nation in the making
The availability of safe and quality food will go a long way to build a healthy society, and the government’s move to declare 2008-2009 as ‘Food Safety and Quality Year’ is a definitive step in that direction, reports Tirthankar Ghosh.

recent World Health Organisation (WHO) report states that one in every ten diseases, and six per cent of deaths globally are due to lack of sanitation. If the world were to go in for a clean-up act, it would mean a total productivity gain of a whopping $9.9 bn per year. Sanitation, or the lack of it, is only the tip of the iceberg. There is need, therefore, for a move to ensure safe, healthy and sustainable food supply, and bring about awareness among consumers to demand safe and quality food. Almost simultaneously, the practice of good hygiene among consumers, producers and food processors has to be promoted.

It is with this in mind that the government declared 2008-09 as ‘Food Safety and Quality Year’. The year-long period will see the
government implementing various schemes, including the establishment of Mega Food Parks with integrated value chain to facilitate linkage of the farmers to the processors, industry and the market. Besides establishing integrated cold chain facilities to enhance shelf-life of perishable products and link them to the market, the government also wants to modernise abattoirs, including scientific and hygienic slaughtering practices, and availability of quality meat to industry and consumers.

Unsafe Food water
  • Lack of hygiene and unsafe water kills 7.8 lakh people annually in India, according to WHO Report 2008, Safer Water, Better Health.
  • One in every 10 diseases and 6 per cent of all deaths globally are caused by lack of sanitation.
  • In India, 1.03 crore people die annually; of this,
  • 7.8 lakh (~7.5 per cent) deaths are related to water, sanitation and hygiene.
  • Diarrhoeal diseases cause 4.02 lakh deaths.
  • Malnutrition accounts for 2.17 lakh deaths.
  • Intestinal nematode infection and water-borne diseases like malaria, dengue and Japanese encephalitis cause 0.19 lakh deaths.
There is also a move to set up and upgrade food testing and quality control laboratories, besides upgrading hygiene and quality of food street vendors and food streets. The government has plans to also institute awards for innovation in food quality, safety and product development, and will focus on developing quality and safety standards for various food products.

The present initiative of the government seeks to meet the requirements of the food sector and is aimed at bringing together the proposed initiatives of the Ministry of Food Processing Industry (MoFPI), as well as related schemes proposed by other concerned ministries like the Ministry of Agriculture, Department of Commerce, Ministry of Health, and Department of Consumer Affairs — all of which are directly involved in the implementation of the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006. The initiative has certain components.

Some of these are:

  • Under the new scheme of upgradation of hygiene and quality of street food of the Ministry, 10,000 street vendors across the nation would be identified, profiled and steps taken to upgrade the safety and quality of their food. They would also be granted quality certification on the basis of standards which have already been worked out by the Ministry.
— Mamata Banerjee
Minister for Railways
All Railway zones have been instructed to give priority to provision of good quality food... I have further instructed that availability of Janata Khaana should be ensured...
  • Also, 10 food streets with ethnic cuisine will be identified, under which the majority of stakeholders would be upgraded in terms of quality and hygiene, and support will be given for creation of infrastructure such as drainage, water supply, lighting, etc., so that these efforts result in more hygienic and safe conditions of food preparations.
  • A protocol based on best international and trade standards would be prepared and checks against the prepared protocol in HACCP certified units would be conducted. The field protocol will be evaluated and companies graded into Platinum, Gold and Silver categories.
  • National and regional industry associations would be involved in identifying units and launching a programme for capacity building through HACCP or ISO 22000 for the food processing units who are members of their Organisations. Under this programme, 10,000 units could be targeted, which would be taken up, profiled and detailed programmes drawn up for upgradation and follow-up steps launched. Certification would be achieved within a period of 18 months.
  • 50 food safety laboratories will be identified which would be benchmarked against industry best practices and a plan of action drawn up for their upgradation. Steps will be initiated to bring them up to best practice levels within the next two years.Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) have already been identified as a thrust area for improving traceability, hygiene and safety of food items. Across the country, 10,000 farmers would be identified (approximately 500 in each state) who would be taken in a step by step process to achieve certification of GAP or for organic food. Viable projects would be created so that the agri-horticultural produce from these farms is marketed and the returns accrue to the farmers.
  • The current Food Safety Standards under the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act would be reviewed in consultation with stakeholders, and revised proposals would be drawn up for consideration of the Central Food Authority.
  • Along with the Quality Council of India, a brochure has been brought out on the food safety issues faced by a housewife and safe practices required in the kitchen. The QCI has also been roped in to introduce food safety issues in schools and proper teaching material has been drawn up through an expert group.
  • In addition, the QCI is also part of a project to publish a book on Indian cuisine and its relation to cultural aspects. Alternatively, the best few books in the area of cuisine and food will be identified and rewarded.
— Kamal Nath
Minister for Road
Transport and Highways

Growing aspirations and quality consciousness among India’s rapidly growing middle class make the market more demanding...This is especially important in the food sector.

The MoFPI initiative is indeed a positive step. Gone are the days when households used silver utensils simply because they promoted food safety. Today, with changed lifestyle and dependability on processed food, the implementation and awareness of food safety and hygiene is crucial for good quality products. Helping out in the MoFPI initiative is the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and the Quality Council of India. In an effort to help the Indian food and beverage industry to become competitive in the global markets, the CII has set up a training fund to promote food safety and quality standards. In fact, the CII has also pointed out that the food processing sector must undergo phased regulation.

What is Codex Alimentarius?

The Codex Alimentarius is the food code that has become the global food standard for consumer foods, food producers and processors, national food regulatory agencies and international trade practices. The code has enormous impact and its influence extends to every continent.

The Codex Alimentarius Commission was created in 1963 by the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) and the World Health Organisation (WHO). It chalked out the blueprint to develop food standards, guidelines and related texts, such as codes of practice, under the Joint FAO/WHO Food Standards Programme. The main purposes of this Programme are protecting health of the consumers and ensuring fair trade practices in the food trade, and promoting coordination of all food standards work undertaken by international governmental and non-governmental organisations. Ever since its creation, the Commission coordinates all of the food standards work done by international governmental and non-governmental organisations and makes recommendations for compliance regulations.

With the 1985 UN Resolution (39/248), the Codex became the guideline for governments in developing and enforcing consumer protection policies around the world. Various international trade agreements in the global food market have also called for complying with the Codex. Its standards have also become the benchmarks against which food regulations are evaluated within the legal parameters of WHO agreements. The reach of the Codex, however, has changed over the years.

The Codex system has presented a unique opportunity for all countries to join the international community in formulating and harmonising food standards and ensuring their global implementation. It also allows them a role in the development of codes governing hygienic processing practices and recommendations relating to compliance with those standards.

The Codex Alimentarius is not the only product of the Codex Alimentarius Commission. Its scientific mission has become as influential. It establishes the scientific standards for food quality and safety, food production, labeling laws, food legislation and food regulations. Its scientific reviews and science- based efforts bring together experts and specialists from a wide range of disciplines “to ensure that its standards withstand the most rigorous scientific scrutiny.”

The WHO and the FAO point out that the work of the Codex Alimentarius Commission has provided a focal point for foodrelated scientific research and investigation, and the Commission itself has become an important international medium for the exchange of scientific information about food.

 

 

Taking the lead, the CII recently organised the fourth Food Safety and Quality Summit at Delhi. The meet educated stakeholders about the need to focus on safety and quality. According to industry pundits, there was an urgent need for such a summit. Though the country’s food export under 33 different categories registered a cumulative growth of 58 per cent since 2005- 06 at Rs 11,412 crore in 2007-08 as compared to Rs 7,233 crore in 2005-06, its share in export of processed food in global trade (pegged at $3.2 trillion) is only 1.5 per cent, as per the 2007-08 annual report of the Ministry of Food Processing Industry.

According to the CII, the relatively low levels of processing or value addition in most cases, low penetration levels and the largely unorganised behaviour of the sector are some of the key challenges faced by the Indian food processing industry. Hence, the need for a training fund to promote food safety and quality standards. In such a situation, do Indian food policies and certifications meet international standards? The food certification systems required in every country are either ISO standards, e.g. ISO 22000 (Food Safety Management System), or client-nominated standards, e.g.
k

BRC Global Food (British Retail Consortium). Food companies in our country are increasingly implementing food safety systems like HACCP, BRC food, ISO 22000, GlobalGAP, Fami-QS and others. The newly established Food Safety & Standards Act (FSSA) authority also demands the implementation of food safety system in all food units. FSSAI had even initiated projects to educate the street food venders and food handlers.

The export requirements and systems to monitor the quality of agriculture produce like grapes through GrapeNET, a project of the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA), is an example of best practices followed in India. Government agencies like MoFPI and APEDA have also been providing subsidy on cost of food safety system implementation to food processing units.

The certification in Indian food industry is bound to be more due to the ‘Push & Pull’ forces in the market. The ‘Push’ comes from government agencies in the form of subsidies, regulatory requirements with heavy penalties and ‘Pull’ from the increased awareness/demand of safe food from consumers. Both these forces will help the Indian food industry to upgrade the quality measures in the near future.

To support the Indian food industry, there are certification bodies that offer solutions to industry for certification, inspections and training. 17025:2005 (NABL) accredited laboratories in our country are offering routine to highly specialised testing, e.g. nutritional labelling test, chemical and microbiological test, analysis of antibiotics and pesticide residues, heavy metals, vitamin estimations and shelf life studies. The certification bodies offer NABCB, DAR, etc. accredited certifications for ISO 9K, 14K, 18K, 22K, HACCP, BRC Global Food & Packaging, IFS, Fami-QS, GMP+, etc.

Food safety and quality management is increasingly becoming important not only from the export point of view; the domestic consumers
too... are demanding a better quality.

— Jairam Ramesh
Minister of State for
Environment and Forests
The MoFPI has also chalked out a three-pronged strategy to attain food safety and quality. While coordination between the various ministries and state governments tops the list, the other moves include a global focus on the quality of food. Simply put, this only underscores that food safety and quality are of paramount importance to sustain and increase the country’s food exports.

While globalisation and the removal of tariff and non-tariff barriers have brought in international competition to the domestic markets, it has prompted the Indian food industry to adopt strong practices of food safety and quality in order to be competitive.

Also, it is important to note that improving food safety and quality has to be a constant and continuous effort rather than a one-shot effort, and all stakeholders from the government and its institutions, to the industry, spanning the entire food chain, academic and research institutions, consumer bodies, and professionals in the field have to be involved in it.

Awareness, or rather the creation of it, is the only solution. The endeavour should be to include food safety and quality, as well as consumer rights in the curriculum of schools so that future consumers will become aware of their rights and demand the best quality food. Simultaneously, proper training programmes for food handlers working in the processing industries in their native
language are essential.