Food control in India is still in its nascent stage. Pre-independence legislation and other laws passed in the seventies and eighties focused on primary food. The legislative framework created multiple executive authorities that lacked coordinated efforts. With industrial growth paving the way for the Information Age – “The Third Wave” brought about changes in lifestyle. Processed food started taking center stage as a perpetual shortage of time became the norm, both at work and home. A legislation to control food quality and to ensure that regulations conformed to international standards, while working on a scientific basis, was the need of the hour in order to protect the health of the consumers.
In 2005 the Government of India drafted the Food Safety Bill to consolidate the laws relating to food and to establish the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India. This regulatory body would lay down science based standards for articles of food, while regulating their manufacture, storage, distribution, sale and import. It also aimed to ensure availability of safe and wholesome food for human consumption. The draft was given life in the form of “Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006”, however the officially came into force only on August 05, 2011. A few of the highlights of the Act are:
- A definition of the general principles of food safety are given and require standards to be established using risk analysis and by undertaking risk assessment based on available scientific evidence.
- Restrictions on the manufacture and distribution of genetically modified food and foods for special dietary uses.
- The seller is made liable for sale of food in specific cases, such as when the manufacturer was unidentifiable.
- The purchaser is empowered to have food analyzed by an authorized food analyst.
What is happening today?
“Watch out for what you eat. It could be killing you slowly and sweetly” – screamed the headline of a report by the Centre for Science and Environment, in March 2012, warning us of trans-fat content in junk food.
The study revealed the following:
- Most junk foods contain very high levels of trans fats, salts and sugar – which inevitably lead to severe ill health and diseases like obesity and diabetes
- CSE lab tests 16 major brands of foods relished by people, particularly the young
- Finds companies resort to large scale misbranding and misinformation; many say their products contain zero trans fats, but CSE finds heavy doses
- Danger lurking: Younger generation hooked to junk food, vulnerable to heart diseases in the prime of their life
Trans fat is short for trans fatty acid. Industrial trans fats like those in vanaspati are formed during the addition of hydrogen atoms to products to increase their shelf-life. The fats are associated with serious health problems, ranging from diabetes to heart diseases to cancer. They have been banned in a few European countries, such as Denmark and Switzerland, and in some of the cities in the US. But not all trans fats are bad for health. At least not the natural ones found in ghee, butter and cheese.
Are we winning or losing the battle?
On 11th January, 2012 a division bench of the High Court of Judicature, New Delhi ordered the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India to draft guidelines or rules to ban junk food in and around schools. The court passed the order on a public interest petition by Uday Foundation, a non-profit organization in Delhi, which alleges that junk food damages the health and mental growth of children. The petition was filed in 2010. The foundation works on child nutrition and health; it has sought a ban on sale of junk food in schools and within 500 meters of educational institutions. The next hearing was scheduled for 25th July, 2012. I am unable to mine a report on this and hence have reason to believe that the matter rests with the court and hence sub-judice.
Food businesses which have been affected by the new norms have filed writs. One of these writs was heard and issued on November 08, 2011 by the Madras High Court. Another case was heard by the same court and interim orders were issued by the learned judge restraining the Centre from enforcing some of the regulations in the Act against the affected parties. The Honorable Justice has directed a Central Government Standing Counsel to take notice returnable by June 05, 2012. As of now, I believe the matter is sub-judice.
On one hand, we seem to have made strides with path breaking legislation, while on the other we lack the teeth for execution. Ultimately, the fight for ‘dietary control’ has to be a personal one, where each of us arms ourselves with knowledge and takes responsibility for ourselves and our families. As the famous saying goes “Forewarned is forearmed”.
About the Author:
Naresh is a fitness enthusiast who enjoys running, rowing and a multitude of outdoor sports. He also works in the healthcare industry and, at close to sixty years, is trying to create awareness of the concept of health through fitness.
Photo Credit: Image 1
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1 Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006
2 The Hindu dated May 02, 2012