Food Safety Standards and Laboratories in India
Adherence to food safety and standards is a growing issue of concern globally. This acquires a sensitive dimension in an era where globalisation and cross-border trade is at its peak, making conformance to food safety standards and quality a highly challenging task.
Food safety, apart from its vital linkage to health, remains an important socio-economic priority for the country. In India, the food processing industry holds tremendous opportunity. It has high employment potential, can boost exports of agro-products out of the country and also provide better returns to farmers for their produce. However, this is possible only if food safety standards are effectively enforced. Despite having a legal framework in place, India still struggles with enforcing food safety norms and standards effectively. Some of the reasons for this dismal scenario are the insufficient number of labs that dot the national space, poor infrastructure in a majority of the food testing labs and in terms of human capital, most state level Food and Drug Administration operating below desired capacity.
Regulations that govern the food sector
The Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 has been the primary law for the regulation of food products and formulation along with enforcement of the standards of food safety in the country. As an “umbrella law”, the Act consolidates older laws on food safety into one wholesome law. The purpose being proper regulation of manufacturing, storage, distribution, sale and import of food products in order to ensure safe and wholesome food for human consumption. It gives immense power to the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI).
Not only does FSSAI manage the framing of regulations to lay down food safety standards but also acts as a nodal agency to formulate guidelines for accreditation of laboratories for food testing. It provides scientific advice and technical support to the Central Government and contributes to development of international technical standards along with collecting and collating data regarding food consumption, contamination, emerging risks etc. Under the purview of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, FSSAI is supported by State Food Safety Authorities.
Laboratories form an important component of the FSSAI. They are testing grounds for food samples and provide a platform for research grounds too. Under the FSSAI mandate, both state laboratories and private labs carryout food safety tests, based on their accreditation by the National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories (NABL). Inspite of having a legal framework, India still struggles with the enforcement of food safety norms. Increasing the number of laboratories and upgrading them will be vital to giving a boost to the food industry. The map below provides a quick look at the number of labs in the country and their positioning.
Food Safety and Standards Act. Legislative Department, Ministry of Law and Justice, Government of India [Internet]. 2006 [cited 2015 Sept 2]. Accessed from: http://www.fssai.gov.in/portals/0/pdf/food-act.pdf