September 24, 2011
The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) will be synchronising its operations with the upcoming Twelfth Five Year Plan.
In a proposal sent to the Planning Commission, the FSSAI has sought setting up of a National Science and Risk Assessment Centre. This, according to the FSSAI, will be the nodal lab for the country, which will entail an investment of Rs 150 crore. This was informed by V N Gaur, interim chairman and CEO of FSSAI.
Gaur was addressing the Industry Regulatory Meet, arranged by the Mumbai Chapter of Association of Food Scientists and Technologists India (AFSTI). The AFSTI has been playing an active and important role in facilitating the transition of the industry from the old Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954, (PFA 1954) to the new Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, by regularly holding regulatory meets and mediating between the industry and the regulatory FSSAI.
Gaur, appearing composed and in-control of the situation, patiently responded to more than 70 questions shot at him by the stakeholders.
Further, elaborating on strategy for lab strengthening, he said that setting up of at least 125 NABL (National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories) accredited food testing laboratories for chemical and microbial testings has been proposed. Each lab will cater to five districts.
"Currently, the country has 72 food testing labs and most of them are "sub-functional." Thus, in addition to setting up the new labs, the FSSAI will focus on upgrading these existing labs to capacitate them to testing all parameters. These labs would be brought up to a level where they were able to obtain the NABL certification and each lab would cater to 10 districts," Gaur suggested.
Besides, two important labs for Kolkata and Mumbai will be set up, which will act as controlling labs, for the other laboratories. The proposal for the same has already been sanctioned by the government, said Gaur.
An important effort by the FSSAI will be towards interlinking all laboratories, as well as enforcement officials like the DOs (Designated Officers), FSOs (Food Safety Officers) and the AOs (Adjudicating Officers). All the applications could be forwarded online and all operations would be computerised. The purpose here will be to create a national data bank for the reference and utility of the industry.
In this way, Gaur assured that the FSSAI would initiate a huge campaign to reach out to the small food processors.
The country needs huge human resource with right qualification to implement the new Act. Gaur admitted to the shortage of staff and said that the Plan proposal would also include setting up of a national training centre in the country. "In this regard, a national workshop on human resource prospective planning has already been organised towards October-end this year wherein, all leading institutes like the AFSTI and industry stakeholders have been called upon to participate," said Gaur.
About the implementation of the Act and the surrounding controversies, Gaur admitted that some states have already implemented the Act smoothly while others have not moved at all.
On Tuesday, a central advisory committee's meeting for food commissioners will be held where the performance of the states will be reviewed.
Addressing the concerns being consistently published in the media about different clauses and regulations in the Act, Gaur had a quick question-answer session with the audience wherein he gave a brief idea on the status of different provisions of the Act.
The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has constituted an expert panel to look into the stevia issue. Stevia as an artificial sweetener is currently banned in the country. The ICMR panel, will in all probability, submit its report to the scientific committee of the FSSAI by October-end.
Migration to the FSSAI licence will not entail separate fees for the FBO (Food Business Operator). If the company is operating in more than one city and has production of more than 2 tonnes per day, then it may require a Central licence and local licences from the places where it operates. Before issuing the central licence, the FSSAI would consider the capability of the company to equip itself with a food safety plan for its other units.
Also, for those FBOs whose licences are expiring early, their applications will be considered on priority basis while issuing the new licence. Maharashtra is ready to issue the Central licence, according to Gaur.
3) Energy Drinks:
The issue of energy drinks is under consideration. Those manufacturing units which currently have the PFA licence may continue to operate, while those seeking new licences are advised to wait for a final assessment by the Authority.
4) Food Product Order (FPO) number on labels:
The food business operators will be assigned new FPO numbers. However, till the transition they can use the old number as the migration will take some time.
5) Whether pending PFA cases will be brought under the new Act:
Gaur said that at least a million cases are pending under the PFA and that there is no straight answer to this. However, the Authority has suggested that the state government can set up a fast-track court to deal with the pending cases. The cases can be divided into trivial and non-trivial. As at least two thirds of the cases will fall under non-trivial category, they will get a resolution. It is the call of the state government, Gaur said.
6) Potable water testing:
The task of deciding the frequency for testing of potable water has been left to the industry. The industry could use its own rationale for testing the water, based on its risk assessment.
Gaur said in the matter of court some checks and balances have to be exerted. Though there is no lower limit to the amount of penalty being levied on an offence committed by the FBO, leaving him vulnerable to higher penalties, his past conduct on safety will be taken into consideration while imposing a penalty on him.
8) Dealing with Inspector Raj:
Gaur said that the food inspectors, who are now the FSOs, are being trained to bring in a complete cultural change. The most important part is the training which is being conducted to change their mindset. Up till now, these officers were never trained for executing their job and thus a newly evolved crop of officers was likely to be seen, which did not compromise on integrity. FSOs and DOs are being given an induction training of six months, a refresher's course every five years and also periodic training on specialised subjects.
New appointees will be trained at least for 15 days before they assume their charge. This will strengthen their character. Inspector Raj is not likely as inspectors (FSOs) alone would not have the complete veto power for deciding penalties, other officials too would be involved.
9) Flavoured Water:A draft is expected within a period of 6 months.
Source: FnB News