Archive for 12,August, 2018

India for Safe Food urges FSSAI to take action against illegal GM foods

12,August, 2018 Comments off

A delegation of citizens representing India For Safe Food (IFSF) turned up at the FDA Bhawan (FSSAI office) in New Delhi to press the country’s apex food safety regulator to initiate concrete action against illegal genetically-modified (GM) foods flooding into the Indian markets, as confirmed recently by the findings of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).
In a statement, it said, “The response of the FSSAI does not satisfy us. It is not enough that they say that they are in the process of formulating regulations with regard to GM foods. They have said this for years now. What about the interim, when GM is being consumed by unaware citizens unknowingly, and when the industry is using loopholes to undertake unlawful sales?”
IFSF demanded that all GM foods, which are unpermitted and illegal in their presence in our markets, be removed by FSSAI immediately, and that punitive action be initiated against the violators so that it also becomes a deterrent for others.
The delegation met with Pawan Kumar Agarwal, chief executive officer, FSSAI, with a memorandum and a basket of the illegal GM foods, accompanied by a message that read, “No poison in our food.”
“However, he did not commit to anything concrete in terms of acting on illegal unapproved hazardous GM foods. He said that he will not act on a private organisation’s findings. But then, he did not say that FSSAI will take up the testing itself, verify and act either,” it added.
“In fact, we are aghast that he asserted that there are no adverse health impacts from GM foods, ignoring the vast body of scientific evidence that already exists,” the delegation stated.
Not only that, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) itself has said in its guidelines for determining the safety of GM food that there is a possibility of introducing unintended changes, along with intended changes, which may, in turn, have an impact on the nutritional status or health of the consumer,” said Ajay Etikala, a young resident of Delhi who works to promote awareness about safe food amongst urban consumers.
He added, “We will continue to put pressure on FSSAI until they act in the interest of citizens.”
Laboratory tests conducted by CSE on food products samples from Delhi, Punjab and Gujarat found that one-third of the samples tested were positive for GM even though GM foods are illegal in India.
Eighty per cent of the 21 foods that tested GM-positive were imported, while the rest were manufactured in India. This means that a vast majority of illegal GM foods are making their way into India by way of stealthy imports.
Of these, 13 brands did not mention the use of GM ingredients anywhere on their labels, while three were mislabelled, claiming they were GM-free.
GM-positive imported food products were based on, or used soy, cotton seed, corn and rapeseed. Positive samples manufactured domestically were made from cottonseed.
Jaya Iyer of Khana, a consumer awareness group working on food justice issues, said, “A consumer’s right to know what he/she is consuming, right to safe food and right to informed choices are all being violated by the inaction of FSSAI.”
“It is very shocking that FSSAI is not putting out an order instructing all such foods to be removed from the shop shelves, distribution centres and storehouses. There are instances in the past when they have indeed acted responsibly and got their enforcement wings to remove unapproved foods. Why will they not do it now,” she stated.
“In fact, all foods that are suspected-to-be-GM, including corn, canola, soy, cottonseed, squash and papaya (based on the country of origin being GM-cultivating) should be allowed to be sold only if an undertaking, based on lab testing, is given by the importer that they are GM-free,” said Dharmendra Kumar of Janpahal, another consumer awareness group which also works with street vendors.
“In fact, the foreign trade regulatory regime requires this. If this is not done, we will have to assume that the regulators are on the side of the food industry, are willing to jeopardise consumer health and are ready to work against their very core mandate,” he added.
Amar Singh Azad, director, Environmental Health Action Group, Kheti Virasat Mission, public and child health expert, said, “Consumers have every reason to worry about such GM foods. The genetic engineering process, the individual genes used as well as the chemicals that are used in conjunction with GM crops are all factors in making these foods hazardous for human consumption.”
“GM foods can potentially result in infertility, immune system disorders, damage to vital organs like liver, kidney, pancreas, lungs, brain etc., allergies, gastro-intestinal problems, adverse effects on the development and growth of an organism, and even cancerous growth, as per various studies available,” he added.
“There is evidence of correlation between consumption of GM crops or consumption of animals fed with GM crops to the incidence of chronic diseases like organ diseases, (thyroid and liver) cancers and neurological diseases from the United States,” Azad said.
“There is scientific evidence on alterations in the nutritional composition of a GM food. There is absolutely no reason or need for India to be allowing such GM foods to be consumed here. The government should actively ensure that GM foods do not enter our food chain,” he added.
“FSSAI is expected to maintain the highest standards of safety for consumers. A day after the findings of CSE were made public, thousands of tweets demanded more concrete action from FSSAI,” said Rajinder Chaudhary of Kudrati Kheti Abhiyan.
“Later, the Coalition for a GM-Free India sent a letter to FSSAI, demanding effective action. The FSSAI has not reacted positively so far. We are very disappointed about what we heard from the CEO today, and this does not improve the credibility of the regulatory agency,” he added.
“The minister for health and family welfare, Government of India, should initiate investigation into the procedural lapses that led to such large-scale flooding of GM foods into our market and take action on the regulators who were not discharging their duties,” Chaudhary said.
The delegation of IFSF, while it presented its demands memorandum to the FSSAI, was supported on social media by a Twitter action from citizens all over India, demanding that FSSAI take up concrete action of removal of GM foods from the market, and penalise violators.

Categories: NEWS

FSSAI issues order on rejecting imported foods claiming to be organic

12,August, 2018 Comments off


FSSAI has issued an order on import of organic food products, directing all the state food authorities to reject all the imported food consignments which claimed to be organic, but do not comply with the food safety regulations.
The Food Safety and Standards (Organic Foods) Regulations, 2017 was notified under the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 in December 2017, and food business operators (FBOs) were directed to comply with all the provisions of the said regulation by July 2018.
Thus, as per FSSAI, all the food products imported to India, which claimed to be organic are supposed to comply with the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, in addition to the provisions of the Food Safety and Standards (Organic Foods) Regulations, 2017.
FSSAI, in its order, stated, “In case the imported food consignments do not comply with the organic regulations and above instructions, the same will be rejected and the importer or clearing house agent (CHA) will have to follow the due procedure of review application as in the Food Safety and Standards (Import) Regulations.”
The order, meanwhile, spoke about the relaxation for the consignments which were exported to India before July.
“However, the import consignments claimed as organic food items, which were exported before July 2018, but have reached on or after July 2018, may be given relaxation for compliance to the Food Safety and Standards (Organic Foods) Regulations, 2017,” the order said.
Pankaj Agarwal, managing director, Just Organik, said, “The recent notification by FSSAI on the imported organic products is a good initiative, as the demand for organic products is increasing in India and there are many products that are not grown in India. This is only possible now because of the Jaivik India norms coming into play for the first time from July 1, 2018. Before this, anyone could sell anything claiming it to be organic. So this is more consumer-centric approach.”
He added, “However, pushing for the Jaivik Bharat logo could be a big deterrent for some of the top brands to enter the market. This will be a completely new area for any foreign brand to come, and any packaging norms imposed by the importing country would need to show big potential. In place of the Jaivik Bharat logo, in the first phase, the internationally-accepted logos of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) (if the produce is from the United States), EU (if the product is from the European Union) or any other, to which the Indian system has taken equivalence, should be allowed. Once the product finds a market, there will be every reason for the Indian importer to push the foreign brand to go for a local logo.”
After meeting several stakeholders, FSSAI, in June 2018, had allowed the use of non-detachable stickers with respect to the apex regulator’s organic logo up to September 30, 2018.
And, FBOs manufacturing, processing or handling organic food were asked to obtain licenses under the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, or get the organic food endorsed in their existing licenses through the food licensing and registration system (FLRS) till September 30, 2018.

Categories: NEWS

Registration details of 30-40% of restaurants not on apps, finds FSSAI

12,August, 2018 Comments off


In its recent review of e-commerce food platforms, FSSAI, the country’s apex food regulator, has found that the aggregators did not have the details of FSSAI licenses and/or registrations in respect of as many as 30- 40% per cent of the restaurants listed on their sites. In fact, some of the e-commerce platforms themselves had not obtained licenses. As the per conditions of the license, only those restaurants that possess FSSAI licenses or registrations can be listed on e-commerce platforms.
Late last month, FSSAI had directed leading e-commerce food service providers like Swiggy, Zomato, Foodpanda, UberEats and others to delist non-FSSAI licensed food businesses from their platform by July 31, 2018 after receiving consumer complaints of sub-standard food being served through e-commerce platforms. The aggregators were advised to display the FSSAI license number on their platform along with the name and location of the restaurants.
At the review meeting held today, the regulator found that some of the leading food aggregators were operating without FSSAI licenses or registrations. Further, it was noted by the regulator that over 30-40 per cent of listed food businesses by these e-commerce aggregators are unlicensed or unregistered.
In many cases, listed food businesses have recently applied for FSSAI licenses or registrations, but still do not possess them.
The regulator gave the food regulators a two-week deadline to submit an action plan to delist unlicensed or unregistered food businesses. These aggregators were also advised to promote food safety and hygiene amongst their listed food businesses by training food safety supervisors, compliance with good hygiene practices (GHPs), ensuring display of food safety boards on their premises.
It has also been decided that the audits of the information technology (IT) platforms of these e-commerce food aggregators would be conducted from the point of view of compliance with food safety and hygiene under the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 and the Food Safety (Licensing and Registration) Regulations, 2011.
In his statement on the subject, Pawan Kumar Agarwal, chief executive officer, FSSAI, stated, “This is a part of the special drive by the regulator to bring in all food businesses under the FSSAI licensing regime and ensure compliance with the food safety laws.”
He added, “FSSAI had only recently notified the regulation bringing e-commerce aggregator platforms within the purview of the food safety law.”
Agarwal hoped these platform will now begin to take food safety seriously from a regulatory standpoint. He appealed to these aggregators to begin to use some of their resources in training and capacity building of restaurants for improving food safety and hygiene, rather than focusing only on deep discounts and aggressive marketing to build consumer traction to their respective platforms. He hoped that the investors of the platforms will take note of this.

Categories: NEWS

Temples to have food safety registration

12,August, 2018 Comments off

‘Prasadams’ or offerings should conform to hygienic standards

Food items (‘prasadams’ or offerings) sold at temples to devotees should conform to the safety and hygienic standards of food safety, the Commissioner of Food Safety has said.

From September 1, temples should follow all regulations under the Food Safety and Standards Act of India 2006 as well as the Food Safety (Licensing and Registration) Rules.

All temples will thus have to secure a licence or registration under the said rules in order to sell ‘prasadam’ through temple counters, the Commissioner said in an official release here.

The authorities concerned should ensure that the storerooms and areas on the premises of temples where the food is cooked should maintain the hygiene standards under Food Safety and Standards Act .

It should also be ensured that the water used for cooking food and served as drinking water is safe. The water should be tested periodically and the certificate on water safety kept for perusal, the Commissioner said.

The safety and hygiene standards should be strictly maintained when in comes to mass feeding and any other food and drinks distributed inside the temple so that there is no possibility of food poisoning episodes.

He said the food safety regulations followed by the two of the biggest temples in the State, Sabarimala temple and Attukal Devi temple and the food safety regulations, licence and registration processes followed in connection with the temple festivals at these temples can be a model for all other temples in the State.

Categories: NEWS

‘We want consumers to know what they are eating’

12,August, 2018 Comments off

FSSAI’s The Eat Right Movement seeks to push manufacturers and consumers towards healthier choices

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) recently started The Eat Right Movement, a nationwide campaign to improve public health and push the food industry to produce healthier choices. Thirty companies, including 18 packaged food companies, have signed various associations with the regulator to bring down salt, sugar and trans fat content in their products. Pawan Agarwal, CEO, FSSAI explains the motivation behind the campaign, and the road ahead.

How did the campaign start?

Last November, we came across a report on disease burden in India, which compared statistics between 1990 and 2016. The incidence of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCD) was extremely high and had been rising steadily over the years. The reason we figured was our unhealthy eating habits. The report got us thinking about measures we can take as regulators. The initiative requires a multi-sectoral approach, and we are trying to make interventions at all levels: regulation, supply and demand.

Can Indians give up on packaged food and beverages?

It’s not easy. It may not happen in a day or a month or even a year, but we have to begin the conversations. As the country’s food authority, we have taken the initiative of talking to all stakeholders and see if we can start the change gradually.

Food companies in Western countries have been told to reduce salt and sugar content. Is it viable?

What we have started in India is similar to initiatives taken in the UK and some Western European countries. However, they have also developed robust monitoring systems to pull up those not adhering to the norms. In the future, we hope to cover the monitoring aspect as well.

Have targets and deadlines been set for reduced salt and sugar content?

We don’t even have a clear picture of the current levels of consumption, so setting targets will be difficult. What we are aiming at is to get food businesses to move in this direction. We are coming up with new labelling regulations and setting a threshold for salt, sugar and trans fat content, beyond which the product can be termed as unhealthy. We want consumers to know what they are eating. There are concerns from the industry on such norms, but we are in the process of fine-tuning them.

How many companies have shown willingness?

Thirty companies have signed various associations with us, including 18 packaged food companies, close to 10 e-commerce players and retailers and some restaurant and hotel associations. ITC, Kellogg’s, Mapro, Marico, Patanjali, Haldiram’s, MTR, Bikanerwala, Britannia, DelMonte, Nestle, Hindustan Unilever Limited are some of the companies who have signed on. The Indian Bakers Federation, Wheat Products Promotion Society, Federation of Biscuit Manufacturers of India, Indian Vanaspati Producers Association are among the bodies that have committed to bring about change.

What are these commitments?

Some have signed general commitments in groups, while some have signed individual ones to reduce the salt, sugar and trans fat content. The commitment documents include pledges like encouraging the use of right choice of fat or oil, reformulating products to reduce fat, sugar and sodium, reducing trans fat content in all foods to less than 0.2% by 2022 in a phased manner.

How will you ensure success?

The success of this initiative depends on consumer demand. Consumers have to consciously and actively move towards a healthy lifestyle, and their demands will automatically push companies to create new, healthy products.

Categories: NEWS

There is a regulatory vaccum in GM food, says CEO of FSSAI

12,August, 2018 Comments off

In a study released in the last week of July, the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) says it tested 65 food products and found 21 of them testing positive for material from genetically-engineered (GE) plants.

The Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 specifically authorised FSSAI to come out with regulations.

In a study released in the last week of July, the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) says it tested 65 food products and found 21 of them testing positive for material from genetically-engineered (GE) plants. Of these, 16 were imported. It has raised an alarm and has called on the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) to ban such food products, though India releases GE crops for cultivation (only cotton so far) after they are found to be safe for humans, animals and the environment. Vivian Fernandes interviewed the CEO of FSSAI, Pawan Kumar Agarwal. Here is an edited and annotated version:

Is the manufacture, import and sale of food containing genetically-modified (GM) plant material disallowed in India?

There is a regulatory vacuum as far as GM food is concerned. The Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 specifically authorised FSSAI to come out with regulations. Until 2016, the environment ministry had issued an order under their act (the Environment Protection Act), which kept the provision that we could regulate it, in abeyance. Once that was withdrawn, we started working on how this could be regulated. We have a scientific panel which has met several times and the regulations have been finalised. The threshold above which we have to label (food containing GM material) was part of the labelling regulations. Now that we are coming out with GM regulations, that provision is being taken out and inserted here.

When will the GM regulations be notified?

Very shortly. These will be put up for consultations. They are draft regulations.

Will you insist on labelling of GM food?

That is the proposal. But the draft regulations will have to be first approved by the government.

Why have labelling at all? It is not mandatory In the United States and Canada, for instance.

Different countries have taken different views. The scientific committee and the authority (FSSAI) have taken a view that it must be labelled. Other than the US, several countries have mandatory labelling requirements. Even in the US, it is voluntary. (The US Food and Drug Administration doesn’t require mandatory labelling of food derived from bioengineered plants because it says it isn’t aware that it poses a different or greater safety concern than food developed by traditional plant breeding. The geneticist Deepak Pental of Delhi University says labelling is meant to alert consumers to a health concern. GM crops are approved only when they are not toxic or allergic to humans. Labelling would prejudice the consumer against the product.-Vivian)

A regulatory vacuum means the manufacture, import and sale of GM food is not disallowed?

It is not disallowed. The view of the food authority is, based on scientific evidence across the world, that there is no verifiable health impact of GM food vis-à-vis conventional food on humans. Obviously, if certain (GM) food is to be allowed, it has to be approved by GEAC (Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee) and then only it will come to us and we will do the risk assessment, just as we do with conventional food before clearing it for consumption.

What is the need for FSSAI to do separate risk assessment, when bioengineered plants have to pass two levels of biosafety trials before being cleared for cultivation?

That is biosafety for growing the crops. They do it for its impact on the environment. We do it for its impact on human health.

Sir, the Biosafety Research Level-I and Level -II trials are meant to ensure that the crops which GEAC recommends for cultivation are not toxic or allergic to humans and animals. Their safety to the environment is also assessed. Will there be a parallel risk assessment by FSSAl, before GM crops are allowed to be cultivated?

For cultivation, the GEAC gives approval. But if any food contains GMOs (genetically-modified organisms) or LMOs (living modified organisms), then their (GEAC) approval will have to be obtained first and then they will have to come to us.

Sir, 96 percent of the cotton grown in India is genetically-modified Bt cotton. Most of our cottonseed oil comes from Bt cottonseed. We have been eating it since 2002 or 2003. In all these years, why did we not test the oil for GM material?

As I said, the FSSAI Act is of 2006. It became operational in 2011. Till 2016, we could not act (for the reasons mentioned earlier). We have now put some regulations. Our current understanding based on scientific evidence is there is no verifiable health risk from GM food. So I don’t think there will be much challenge in terms of it getting approved by FSSAI once it is approved for cultivation in India or abroad. But they have to follow a process because our act requires it. As for labelling, FSSAI wants to make it mandatory, but that depends on whether the government agrees. That also has to go through a consultation process and based on the feedback a final view will be taken.

At what level of GM material will labelling be triggered?

In our labelling regulations, it was 5%, but we have received many representations. We may review it. We will send it to the government within a week or two. (According to a FSSAI press release, Japan, Canada, Thailand and Indonesia allow GMO content up to 5 per cent without labelling. The European Union’s limit is 0.9 per cent. Lower the threshold, higher is the cost demonstrating or verifying compliance – Vivian).

What do you think of the study by the Centre for Science and Environment? Are you convinced about the methodology they have adopted?

CSE’s study is useful. At least some data is available. There are some concerns about the methodology, but something is better than nothing.

Categories: NEWS