Still a long way to go
The Food Safety and Standards Act,2006 became operational on August 5, 2011. The Act was passed in 2006 and the Food Safety and Standards Authority was set up in 2008 but the Act wasn't completely operational.
The Act now replaces all the other existing food laws in the country. The Act repeals the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954 along with six other food related orders like the Fruit Products Order, 1955; the Meat Food Products Order, 1973; the Vegetable Oil Products (Control) Order, 1947; the Edible Oils Packaging (Regulation) Order, 1998; the Solvent Extracted Oil, De oiled Meal, and Edible Flour and (Control) Order, 1967; the Milk and Milk Products Order, 1992.
There are a few positives about the Act. Earlier all the different food laws were scattered and fell under different ministries. Now with all the food laws merged, the Act now encompasses all food related laws and the authority is the autonomous body. The administrative head of the FSSAI is the Ministry of Health.
The Act has provided for special courts and food safety appellate tribunals to hear and expedite the procedures in food related cases. The act also talks about regular food audits that will keep the licensed food business operators in check.
If the Designated Officer has reasonable ground for believing that any food business operator has failed to comply with any regulations to which this section applies, he may, serve an improvement notice on that food business operator. This will help keep check on the food business operators.
The Act has introduced the food recall procedure, a provision that aims at effective crisis management. If a food business operator (FBO) has reasons to believe that any article of food placed by him on the market does not comply with the requirements or standards under the Act or is unsafe, he is required to take steps to immediately recall the food.
However, the success of the Food Recall Procedures will depend upon prompt action by the concerned FBO and close co-operation and proper co-ordination between the FBO and the Authorities.
The act makes licensing and registering mandatory. While licensing is for the bigger players in the food business, petty retailer, hawkers, itinerant vendors, temporary stall holders, small scale or cottage industries related to food business and tiny food business operators have to register themselves with the FSSA.
Providing registration for all the vendors, though a positive step is also ambitious. It is going to be a herculean task and the efficacy of the move depends largely on the manpower with the Authority. By his own admission, former chairman PI Suvrathan had said that they were understaffed and cash strapped. Recent reports have also suggested that some of the state Food and Drug Authorities do not have the software or the manpower in place to start registration.
The Act looks quite attractive and complete on paper. For instance the Act makes provisions on packaging and labelling imposing certain restrictions on advertisement and prohibiting unfair trade competitions. But it is the implementation of these sections that will test the efficacy of this new Act.