Food Adulteration and Laws for its Prevention in India

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Context:

The Centre for Science and Environment recently released results of an investigation it had conducted into the quality of honey being produced in India. It reported that products by many popular brands were not honey, and, in fact, had been spiked with added sugar. Therefore, they should not be branded and sold as honey. The report also said that adulteration has become so sophisticated in the country that there are products available to cheat the tests that Indian food testing labs conduct to measure the purity of honey.

Relevance:

  • Prelims: 
    • Current events of national & international importance; General Science
  • Mains: 
    • GS II: Issues relating to the development and management of Social Sector/ Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources.
    • GS-III: Food processing & related industries in India: scope & significance, location, upstream & downstream requirements, supply chain management.

 

What is food adulteration?
  • Food adulteration is an act of adding or mixing of poor quality, inferior, harmful, substandard, useless or unnecessary substances to food. This act of spoiling the nature and quality of food items is considered food adulteration.
  • To put it in simple terms, let us take the example of milk. Under the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954, a trader is guilty if he sells milk to which water has been added (intentional addition) or the cream of the milk has been replaced by cheap vegetable or animal fat (substitution) or simply the cream has been removed and the milk is sold as such, with a low-fat content (abstraction).
  • Providing good quality food is thus of considerable importance for public health and the national economy.
  • Several laws have been enacted and implemented by the Central and State Governments to help maintain food quality at various stages from production through storage, processing, internal and external trade and consumption.

Reasons for adulteration and how it's done?
  • For increasing the bulk or quantity of a food item by adding cheaper substitutes and making greater profits. For Ex. A shopkeeper may add water to milk or stones to food grains.
  • To save money, a sweetmaker may place aluminium foil instead of silver foil on the sweets he makes
  • To mask food spoilage and ignorance of the people handling food. For Ex: Poor quality fruits, vegetables and pulses are sometimes artificially coloured to give them the fresh look
  • To improve their consumer appeal. Thus several prepared food items being sold in restaurants and eateries such as rice and meat 176 preparations, sweets etc. have added colour because the consumer prefers it.
  • Preservation of food for supply to distant places and to avoid its wastage during the glut season. The milk vendors very commonly add chemicals like sodium bicarbonate to neutralise developed acidity in the milk and increase the shelf life.

Which Law Governs Food Adulteration in India?

In India, food adulteration is governed by the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954. This Act defines when food will be considered adulterated. They are the following:

  • When a vendor sells a food article to a purchaser which is not of the quality or substance and nature demanded.
  • When it contains an unnatural substance that is hazardous to health consumption.
  • If any unnatural substance is added partially or whole to the original product.
  • When a food product is stored or packed or prepared under an unhygienic condition which makes the food unhealthy for consumption.
  • When any diseased animal is used for the preparation of food.
  • When a food contains any poisonous substance.
  • When the container of food is made up of any health hazardous substance.
  • When food colour is added more than the prescribed quantity or if any other health hazardous substance is used for adding colour to the food article.
  • When a food article is preserved with any prohibited substance or when food preservative is used in excess amount.
Who is the regulator of Food standards in India?

The Ministry of Health & Family Welfare has established the Food Safety and Security Authority of India (FSSAI) under Food Safety and Security Act, 2006 to regulate the science-based standards of food and also for manufacturing, packing, storage, distribution, import and sale to ensure the good quality of food. This Act was enforced to set up a single food quality platform for various food products.

The functions of FSSAI given under the Food Security and Safety Act, 2006 are as follows:

  • Framing of Regulations to lay down the Standards and guidelines in relation to articles of food and specifying an appropriate system of enforcing various standards thus notified.
  • Laying down mechanisms and guidelines for accreditation of certification bodies engaged in certification of food safety management system for food businesses.
  • Laying down procedure and guidelines for accreditation of laboratories and notification of the accredited laboratories.
  • To provide scientific advice and technical support to Central Government and State Governments in the matters of framing the policy and rules in areas that have a direct or indirect bearing of food safety and nutrition.
  • Collect and collate data regarding food consumption, incidence, and prevalence of biological risk, contaminants in food, identification of emerging risks and introduction of a rapid alert system.
  • Creating an information network across the country so that the public, consumers, Panchayats, etc. receive rapid, reliable and objective information about food safety and issues of concern.
  • Provide training programs for persons who are involved or intend to get involved in food businesses.
  • Contribute to the development of international technical standards for food, sanitary and phytosanitary standards.
  • Promote general awareness about food safety and food standards.

Consumer Awareness

How can you check if food is adulterated?

  • The consumer can easily be aware of the food they are consuming and check if the food or drink which they bought is healthy to consume or now by simple steps.
  • FSSAI has set up an online platform named DART (Detect Adulteration with Rapid Test) for checking the quality of various food articles like milk, dairy products, oils, grains, fruits, vegetables, sugar, beverages,etc.
  • For instance, if a person has purchased vegetables you can check if it is adulterated or not by simply taking a dabbed cotton with water or vegetable oil and rubbing it on the surface of the vegetable. If the cotton does not change the color it is not adulterated. 


Where to complain when food article is found to be adulterated?

When food article is found to be adulterated there is 3-tier complain redressal system where a consumer can complain:

  • 1st tier is shopkeeper or manufacturer from where a consumer has purchased food or drink for consumption.
  • 2nd tier is Local Health Authority of District or Commissioner of Food Safety of the State/ Union Territory.
  • 3rd tier is Consumer Forum.

Consumers can also file complain through an Online portal named “the Advertising Standards Council of India”

Penalties for adulteration food under the law:

  • When any manufacturer sales, distribute, imports or stores any food article which is adulterated, he will be liable under section 16 of the Prevention of Food Adulteration (PFA) Act, 1954 and will also be punished with imprisonment of 6 months and with a fine of rupees 1000 under section 272 of IPC for selling of adulterated food or drink which are hazardous for health consumption[.
  • The punishment could also extend depending on the grievousness of the act done by the manufacturer or vendor.
Ways to prevent food adulteration
  1. Improved Storage facilities: we need close monitoring of the storage conditions of food grains by professional individuals. There is a scope to improve the quality of grains by keeping in track the incoming and outgoing samples along with their dates so that “first in first out” can be applied here as well.  During the months of monsoon, and also in highly humid areas, extra care must be taken so that grains are not spoiled.
  2. Improved Handling practices: The food handlers have to be well trained on how to handle grains to prevent damage to the grains or quality loss.
  3. Prevention of Addition of extraneous matter, other oils, rice starch and other substances for monetary gains by selling cheaper quality food at a higher price: Economically motivated food adulteration is widespread in our country. This can b handled in a three-fold technique by joint efforts of the consumer, food vendor and the government.
    1. the consumer should be encouraged to keep a keen eye on the food they are buying or consuming. The DART book must be popularized among the public through advertisements and housewives can be motivated to conduct those tests.
    2. the FOSTAC training must be given to the food vendors so as to educate them about the ill effects of adulterated food, inform them about the penalties they have to pay if found guilty and therefore encourage them to carry out fair trade practices.
    3. the government can open “adulteration awareness cells” where people can report cases of food adulteration directly. The government can also conduct raids or sudden visits to the godown or places where food is stored so as to check if the conditions are suitable. A random sampling of foods from different vendors should be analyzed and if found adulterated then strict measures must be taken.
  4. Introduction of newer technologies for the detection of food adulteration:
    •  Food apps, to easily report cases of food adulteration. Newer machines can be developed to detect the level of food adulteration in different food items.
    • For example, “Ksheer Scanner’, which instantaneously detects urea, salt, detergent, liquid soap, boric acid, caustic soda, soda and hydrogen peroxide, was developed by CSIR-CEERI.
  5. Educating the food vendors and middlemen: The food vendors must be given training and told about the ill effects of adulteration. They must be made aware that the adulterated foods also harm their own family members.

Lessons from around the globe

 HONG KONG 

  • It has launched a food fraud vulnerability assessment tool that helps companies analyse these three aspects in order to better understand the food fraud vulnerability for any food product or ingredient.
  1. Opportunity: The opportunity to commit fraud reflects the ease of adulteration and difficulty of detection. For food ingredients, these are determined by composition, physical qualities, the complexity of production processes, control of supply chains, as well as geographic origins.
  2. Motivation: High-value food items for which subtle characteristics create large price differences can be enticing targets for fraudsters. Intense price competition creates incentives to replace high-value ingredients with cheap substitutes. A company with a valuable brand is usually less motivated to commit fraud, while the motivation to commit economic crimes is often higher when a company or an individual is facing a financially desperate situation.
  3. Control Measures: A food company’s primary fraud controls are its food safety management and quality control systems, as well as its managers and staff. External controls include food safety agencies, anti-fraud regulations and law enforcement. Vigilant suppliers also play a role in preventing food fraud.

AUSTRALIA:

  • Inspection and surveillance are the most common bases of identifying specific breaches of food laws Further survey data indicates that, in conducting inspection programs, most agencies undertake systematic rather than random inspections; inspection frequency is in most cases weighted according to the assessed risk involved in particular classes of premises, and general inspections patterns are preferred to blitzes on particular areas or problems.
  • Public complaints received a lower rating as a means of identifying specific breaches, but this reflects limits on the number of complaints received rather than the importance attached to them by the agencies.
  • Indeed, 84% of agencies indicated that they give priority to public complaints, reflecting underlying notions of ‘customer service’ in many cases.
  • Education and warnings are the most commonly used tools for rectifying specific breaches and are often used together. On identifying a breach, an enforcement officer will often issue a warning and also advise the proprietor on how to deal with the problem.
  • Fines and prosecutions are used less frequently, and adverse publicity is rarely used.

 

Conclusion

It is clear that the major areas India should focus on is to combat intentional food adulteration for economic benefits, as most of the cases of non-compliance were due to that. It is also true that:

  • Education and regulation go hand in hand.
  • Prevention of food adulteration in turn prevents food wastage.
  • Digitalization and improved technology can revolutionize the present scenario of food safety

It requires close monitoring and strategic planning to combat such a widespread problem.  Food safety apps for consumers, improved labs under the government and trained personnel for supervision will together form a great weapon to fight food adulteration.



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