"Scientific evidence has shown that contamination of food is a serious issue in India as unchecked microbial activity, and the use of pesticides and antibiotics seriously compromise food safety while consumption of junk food and other chemically-laced foods adds to the problem," said Chandra Bhushan, deputy director general, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), flagging the nation's key concerns on the eve of the World Health Day.
- Implementation and enforcement of the Food Safety and Standards Act (FSS) needs to be strengthened: CSE believes an effective monitoring mechanism is the key to the success of Indian food safety regulatory framework. Limited capacity of enforcement authorities should not be a hindrance and should be augmented. Also, financial and legal penalties should be set in order to ensure deterrence. Procedures and practices of product approval, registration and licensing of food business operators should facilitate greater enforcement of the law of the land. Greater emphasis on imported food products is also required.
- Food testing laboratory infrastructure and skills needs to be strengthened: With existing facilities being inadequate, a country-wide network of public and private laboratories with required infrastructure and skills for food testing is critical to the enforcement of food safety regulations.The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) needs to build upon on this going forward. It will also help in timely identifying and addressing a food-safety emergency.
- Limits of chemicals or determinants of unsafe food need to be set: Science-based standards in line with international best practices for currently and newly identified chemicals should be set. For example, the FSSAI should set maximum residual limits for antibiotic residues in chicken and other food-producing animals. These should reflect therapeutic use only. Antibiotics for growth promotion and mass disease preventionshould be banned as done in several European countries. Antibiotics critical for human medicine should also be prohibited. Similarly, stringent limits for trans-fats in hydrogenated oils at 5% should be set and implemented at the earliest.
- Training, education and awareness of all stakeholders should be a priority: Mass communication efforts and initiatives are the need of the hour. Those working at farms, factories, handlers and consumers across the country should be continually made aware about food safety risks and best practices. Training programmes should be institutionalized for street food vendors and food safety officers. Greater emphasis needs to be given to appropriate food labeling to better inform consumers.
- A national level disease surveillance and public alert system should be set: It is important to record all acute and long-term food-borne cases and their reasons, specifically other than microbiological such as such as pesticides to be able to address the issue in totality. Monitoring of antibiotic resistance trends in live animals, retail meat and humans would help tackle the antimicrobial resistance. A public alert system in case of outbreaks, food product recalls, chemical food poisoning would be important going forward.
- Policies to promote and make available good food: Domestic food and international trade policies should facilitate easy and cheap availability of freshly prepared food, fruits and vegetables in the country.