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The Food Safety & Standards (Amendment) Bill, 2020 – Emerging scenario

14,December, 2020

 

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) is an autonomous body established under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare by the Government of India (GOI). It sets the standards for food to maintain the required quality so that there is no chaos in the minds of consumers, traders, manufacturers, and investors. Food Labelling bridges the gap between the manufacturer and the consumer which covers both, food safety and information in the favour of the consumer’s interest. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has framed Food Safety and Standards (Amendment) Bill, 2020. The bill introduces 70 amendments in the FSSAI Act, 2006. It intends to revamp the functioning and jurisdiction of the FSSAI.
The Major Features of the Food Safety and Standards (Amendment) Bill are:
•    The amendment will offer more powers to FSSAI.The jurisdiction of FSSAI is to be extended towards animal feed as well which is a good cause. So far, FSSI has had powers in the food industry. Feed means any substance that satisfies the nutritional requirements of animals.
•    Even, it will simplify the processes and improve the penalties imposed for violations. This will involve the manufacturing and selling of unsafe food, businesses that are carried out without proper licenses, adulteration of food that leads to death. The punishment for the sale of unsafe food under the new amendment has been extended to life imprisonment which would help maintain the quality of the food.
•    The amendment will also specify standards for food packaging material. The food packaging material has been mentioned as “food contact material” in the bill. It would specify standards for food contact material, which would mean specifying standards for food packaging material.
•    A Chief Executive Officer is to be appointed at FSSAI. Earlier, the chairperson and the members were selected based on recommendations made by the Selection Committee. However, now there would be no role of the selection committee that would be helpful in fair selection. So far, the role had not been defined.
•    The process of serving notices to a food business operator has been simplified. The notice shall be issued to those running unsafe restaurants. Changes in the definition of proprietary food, which means an article of food for which standards have not been specified but is not unsafe.
Challenges in the FSSAI act, 2006
The FSSAI was established under FSSAI, 2006. The challenges with the act are as follows:
•    The retailers, hawkers, and petty manufacturers are exempted from the ambit of FSSAI. They contribute majorly to the unorganised food sector.
•    There are no enough food testing laboratories in the country for the authority to scrutinise the food processing industries which was the major challenge for the country.
•    The body has failed to ensure quality, hygiene and safety in the food industry.
•    There are shortages in enforcement and licensing officers. This severely affects food safety measures and thus it requires structural reform. This is to be achieved through the current amendment.
•    The FSSAI has only 377 regulations mentioned. On the other hand, foreign countries have more than 10,000 foods and detailed standards. Even, the list is not reviewed regularly.
•    Licensing and registration framework were not being followed, shortage of food testing laboratories, shortage of manpower, etc.
Food Safety Standards: International Perspective
The Food Safety and Standards (Labelling and Display) Regulations, 2019, helps a consumer to understand the contents of a product and make informed choices. Therefore, to make the labeling requirements more effective, certain changes are being made. Such changes include printing of best before the date and expiry date on the food packaging and offer discounts if the food is being sold after the best before date. ‘Best before’ and ‘expiry/ Use by date’ are two labels of a product, usually used to indicate the shelf life of a product. Until recently the industry practice was to put manufacturing date and expiry date at two different places over the pack which was posing difficulty for the consumers to see both briefly. Hence, the new regulation proposed that the Date Marking included the ‘Date of Manufacturing’ and the ‘Date of Expiry’ at one place to make it easily visible.
According to FSSAI ‘Best before’ means the date until which the food will be marketed and sold in the markets for the consumers. It also means that during this period, the food is completely fit for consumption. Hence, as opposed to the general understanding, after the said date, the food can be consumed; however, its quality may deteriorate. On the other hand, the meaning of the term ‘use by date’ or ‘expiry date’  signifies the date after which the food cannot be consumed even if stored according to the specified conditions.
The food shall not have the desired quality and attributes, thus making it unhealthy for consumption. In simple terms, the ‘best before’ date states that the food is edible, however, it may not have the desired quality as guaranteed by the manufacturer after the said date has passed. The food may no longer be in perfect condition and lack the exact taste, aroma, and certain nutrients. On the other hand, ‘Expiry date’ means that the food has gone bad and should not be eaten at all after the said date as it may cause illness and in rare cases even death.
The idea of the proposed change is to empower the consumers and save the manufacturers from wastage of food as the food is fit to be eaten even after the ‘best before’ date has passed. Retailers often try to offer discounts on products close to their ‘best before’ date. Therefore, Consumers must be aware of the products they are buying and how far is it safe to consume the same. At present, the ‘use by’ date is only used in a few products like bread and packaged dairy. India is one of the top 5 markets for packaged food needs to inculcate this provision at the earliest.
Food Safety Standards: Global Analysis
On October 8, 2019: A survey is conducted on the global level to analyse the scenario. 96 percent of residents of China are the most confident about the safety of the food they consume. Food safety confidence was also high in India, at 93 percent, and the United States at 90 percent. In France, however, 52 percent said they did not feel sufficiently informed to be confident about food safety. Two world-class companies, Merieux NutriSciences, and bioMérieux conducted international consumer research to understand perceptions and behaviors involving food safety in four countries: The United States, China, France, and India.
Even if food safety seems to be a growing concern for these four countries, the results highlight different perceptions and expectations from one country to another, according to a statement from the two companies.
The survey found best-before dates are most important in India where 66 percent of those asked said they use them, and the United States where 61 percent use them. Only 33 percent of the French consider the best-by dates a guarantee. Scoring higher in France was traceability at 71 percent of respondents; product composition at 63 percent; and quality labelling at 41 percent.

Product brands are not seen as an essential guarantee of food safety in France with only 11 percent relying on them but rated higher in China and India with 42 percent and 43 percent of respondents, respectively, relying on brand names as indicators for safety.

For issues such as chemicals, food fraud, pathogens, and allergens, the international survey found Americans less worried, coming in at 64 percent, than the French at 78 percent, Indians at 81 percent, and Chinese at 89 percent.
The survey results imply major behavioral changes in many countries, according to the companies. Regarding packaging, 92 percent of French respondents, 72 percent of Chinese, 87 percent of Indians, and 83 percent of Americans are predominantly willing to accept the evolution of less individual packaging, less plastic, and more returnable glass. However, a minority of 45 percent of respondents in France and 49 percent in America would accept paying more for healthier and safer food. In India, 72 percent would be willing to pay more. In China 73 would pay more.
European Perspective
The European Union (EU) was the only jurisdiction to submit comments on India’s Draft Food Safety and Standards (Packaging) Regulations, 2017 by the January 5, 2018 deadline. The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) notified the Draft Regulations to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) on November 6, 2017. In its comments, the EU notes that the Draft Regulations make mandatory compliance with the relevant Indian Standards (IS) for paper and board materials, metals and alloys, and plastic materials in Schedules I, II, and III, respectively (thus far, compliance with the Standards has been voluntary). If the Standards become mandatory, the EU requested a sufficient transition period and asked if the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) would make them available free of charge.  
US Food Safety Standards
The current food safety laws are enforced by the FDA and FSIS. The FDA regulates all food manufactured in the United States, except the meat, poultry, and egg products that are regulated by FSIS.
Europe Food Safety Standards
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is the agency of the European Union (EU) that provides independent scientific advice and communicates on existing and emerging risks associated with the food chain. The work of EFSA covers all matters with a direct or indirect impact on food and feed safety, including animal health and welfare, plant protection, and plant health and nutrition. EFSA supports the European Commission, the European Parliament, and EU member states in taking effective and timely risk management decisions that ensure the protection of the health of European consumers and the safety of the food and feed chain. EFSA also communicates to the public openly and transparently on all matters within its remit.
A regulatory scenario in almost every country is the same. Stringent regulations are made about the safety of the food and maintenance of the quality of the food.
(The author is research director, BlueWeave Consulting. He can be contacted at laltusinha@blueweaveconsulting.com)

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