Regulating for safe food and clean environment is one of the most important components of a holistic public health agenda. But in the modern urban-industrial societies, regulations are becoming highly scientific and complex. Developing and implementing regulations not only requiresa clear understanding of the social and the economic realities, it also requires complex scientific instrumentations, communication strategies and well-trained institutions. If we get any of the above wrong, regulations might end up causing more harm to the public health than good.
In this issue of the Environment Health Bulletin, we have focussed on some key regulations— both national and international – that will have an important influence on the public health agenda of the country.
The lead story is about the Food Safety and Standards Act 2006. The Act, which became operational in August last year, is yet to find its feet. There is a lot of dissatisfaction amongst the small and medium food business operators who believe that the Act lays out the red carpet for the big food players but makes it very tough for the small operators and the vendors. To make matters worse the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has not done much to allay the apprehensions of the small businesses. For instance, the FSSAI had set a deadline for August 5, 2012, for all big and small food businesses to get their licenses and registrations respectively. A random check with the vendors close to our office showed that none of the vendors were even aware that they had to get registered. The law is such that if they fail to get registered, they would have to shut shop. So effectively the lack of infrastructure and preparedness on the part of FSSAI would mean loss for the small businesses. Recently, the FSSAI has extended the deadline for registration byanother 6 months. But this is not sufficient as the need is to redesign the regulation that supports and promotes, and not only regulates small businesses to sell clean and wholesome food.
The last quarter saw some quick moves from the food regulators on drafting rules on honey and energy drinks. For the former the FSSAI has duly noted our findings and said that no antibiotics should be found in honey; in case of energy drinks they have only gone halfway. While they have stripped the tag of energy drinks, they have kept quiet on the caffeine content— they want to allow upto 320 mg/kg of caffeine in‘caffeinated beverages’. We ask if 145 mg/kg is the safe limitin soft drinks (carbonated beverages), how can 320 mg/kg be allowed in another drink. Isn’t this a contradiction of the government on its own standards? We ask if we really need energy drinks? We urge you to ask the same.
This edition of the newsletter shows how states have taken steps to regulate food and toxins. Six states have banned Guthka and there are more in the pipeline. Similarly, Kerala has started a massive program -- Operation Blossom Spring -- to get rid of the obsolete stock of endosulfan. But the irony is that while Kerala is trying to find a way to get rid of these toxic pesticides without harming human health or the environment, the centre is keen to allow the manufacture of endosulfan and its sale in the country— clearly business profits and not human or environment health is the priority for our agriculture ministry.
Internationally, some regulations were positive, like the USFDA declining to rename High Fructose Corn Syrup with the term corn sugar, while others like the proposed roll back of fat taxes by the Danish government is particularly worrying. The Danish government decision to impose fat taxes in October last year was seen as anexemplary move to fight obesity and cut down high fat food intake. The decision is being spurred by trade unions in Denmark who have complained that they are loosing out to the neighbouring countries, as the Danes known to have a high fat diet go across the border to get cheaper butter and cheese. The decision is yet to be taken.
The Parliamentary standing committee on agriculture came up with its 37th report on ‘Cultivation of Genetically Modified Food Crops – Prospects and Effects’. The report is very critical of the existing regulatory institutions and the way they have pushed for GMO crops in the country. It has recommended formation of Bio safety authority in place of a biotechnology regulatory authority, which is being pushed by ministry of science and technology.
We would like to take the opportunity to make you a part of our campaign against junk food.All you have to do is RUN FOR US. Join us in the Delhi Quarterthonand help us raise funds for the campaign. Your participation will take our cause to a larger audience. Visit our website for more details.
As always, we look forwards your comments, suggestions and feedback.