Food is vital and necessary for sustenance of lives as well as proper health, growth and development of human beings. The food industry has become one of the largest industries in India and is bringing in huge profits to the country.
It is thus pertinent to understand the necessary rules and regulations or the legal framework in place to evaluate the existing legal scenario of the food industry and whether the same is adequate or not.
Interests and welfare of the consumer is one of the prime objectives of a welfaristic State like India. It is thus the prerogative of the State to ensure that its consumers are availing the best standards of food.
In this regard, several laws were enacted from time to time to govern various aspects of the food processing industry like sanitation, licensing and other necessary permits.
Laws like the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954, The Fruit Products Order, 1955, The Meat Food Products Order, 1973, The Vegetable Oil Products (Control) Order, 1947, The Edible Oils Packaging (Regulation) Order, 1998, The Solvent Extracted Oil, De oiled Meal, and Edible Flour (Control) Order, 1967, The Milk and Milk Products Order, 1992, Essential Commodities Act, 1955 (in relation to food) were repealed and a comprehensive legislation covering all aspects of governing the food industry was put into place namely The Food Safety and Standards Act (hereinafter referred to as "FSSA") in the year 2006. It is the umbrella legislation for the food industry.
Highlights of the FSSA
The Act has been enacted keeping in mind the existing international standards of food safety. Under the Act, a single regulatory and autonomous body called Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (hereinafter referred to as "FSSAI") was established. The Act also has certain Food Safety and Standards Rules in place regarding the functioning of the FSSAI and the various bodies under it along with Food Safety and Standards Regulations that covers the regulatory aspects concerning the food industry like licensing, labeling, use of additives, food standards etc.
The Act mentions that its provisions are not applicable to farmers and fishermen or any equipment or supplies used by them in their operations. The Act has supplied the definitions of important terms like food business (public or private undertaking, may or may not be for profit, carrying out any of the activities related to food like manufacture, processing, packaging, storing, distribution, transportation, hotel and catering services, import of food etc.), misbranded food, sub-standard food, unsafe food, advertisement, food safety audit, food safety management system, risk analysis, etc.
Thus, it can be inferred that the subject-matter of the legislation covers all the stages of food processing right from the process of manufacture to its availability in the market and final consumption by consumers.
Food Safety Standards under FSSA
As already mentioned, the FSSA ensures international standards of food safety at all stages. Following are some of the key provisions regarding the same.
Packaging and Labeling: Regulations for Packaging and Labeling have been framed under the FSSA. It is provided that while labeling food articles, information like name of the food, list of ingredients, declaration as to veg/non-veg, information regarding food additives, name and complete address of manufacturer, net quantity, batch number, date of manufacturing or packing, best before date, country of origin in case the food is imported and instructions for use must be specified in every article of consumption to keep the consumers informed.
Advertisement: Advertisement is any audio/visual media that informs the consumers about the particular food article. Certain safeguards have to be kept in mind while advertising a food article so as to ensure that the particular advertisement is not misleading or deceiving or contravenes the provisions of the FSSA. For the promotion of sales, any person is prohibited from indulging in unfair trade practices like false representation of the goods as to the standard or quality of the food article or give a misleading representation regarding the same. Also, the person is not allowed to make claims that are scientifically false.
Licensing and Registration of food operators: There are separate regulations pertaining to licensing and registration. The main objective is to ensure that food operators follow a certain standard of hygiene and sanitation measures for food safety and consumer health. Food business cannot be started unless a person possesses a valid license from the competent authority.
Thus, persons involved in the food business at any stage are mandatorily required to follow the instructions and standards for food safety provided in the FSSA.
Food Adulteration in India
Food Adulteration is a criminal offense in India and the provisions for the same can be found in the Indian Penal Code (hereinafter referred to as "IPC") and the FSSA. Article 272 of the IPC entails an imprisonment for six months and fine of Rupees one thousand to whoever adulterates any article of food or drink with an intention to sell the same. The same penalty extends for whoever sells noxious food or drink as provided under Article 273 of the IPC.
Under the FSSA, 2006, the Act has guidelines for the search, seizure and the inspection of any place, food or adulterant suspected of being involved in the commission of any offence relating to food. Sufficient powers for the same have been bestowed upon The Food Safety Officer, a statutory post under the FSSA. A host of other food penalties are enshrined under FSSA relating to various offences pertaining to food.
With globalization, global food trade has advanced rapidly and food safety parameters mainly in the developed countries like the US, EU and Japan have become stringent. However, the scope of this article is limited to India only and thus import-export of food shall not be discussed here.
As per a recent report, 20% of Indian food tests revealed adulterated products in the year 2014 in respect of which the FSSAI has lodged several criminal and civil cases against those responsible.
The most controversial has been the banning of Nestles popular two-minute snack called Maggie Noodles in the year 2015 over analysis of food samples that revealed above-permitted levels of monosodium glutamate (popularly known as MSG).
Adulteration of milk has been an issue for a long time now. Milk has been found to be laced with urea, caustic soda, detergent and paint by unscrupulous traders thereby playing havoc with the lives of consumers. Union Minister Harsh Vardhan said over 68% of the milk sold did not conform to standards laid down by India's food regulator FSSAI, quoting figures from a nationwide survey conducted by the agency in 2011. However, the Minister went on to add that a new scanner has been developed by Central Electronics Engineering Research Institute in Rajasthan's Pilani town that can detect if milk is adulterated under 40 seconds unlike previous methods of detection that were time-consuming and expensive.
In 2011, 156 people in Sangrampur, West Bengal died when they consumed cheap illegal alcohol that was spiked with methanol. In 2013, the ambitious scheme of Mid-Day Meal of the Government suffered a setback when some 48 students were affected when they consumed the free lunch provided at their school in Bihar wherein it was later found that the cooking oil was contaminated with pesticide.
The above-mentioned examples are proof of the fact that more than the stringent legislative provisions, their execution by the administrative machinery concerned which functions under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare is necessary and strict checking of food articles must be carried out that could check on malicious acts of unscrupulous traders.
There is no lack of legislation in India but the people and the implementing officials are not doing their duties honestly. These people do not have any fear of law and want to become crorepati overnight. If the people die due to adulteration let them die, they do not care. There is a need of attitude change in the people to abide by the laws.
The lack of an attitude of concern is true for every law in place. We have no dearth of Acts but dearth of actions.
Due to the heavy presence of social media in our lives, awareness generation is also happening in full swing especially among the urban populace. Now we are at the stage where strong emphasis must be laid on enforcement measures. The nation lacks a strong and credible enforcement machinery. The administrative sector in India has a huge responsibility because the legislature is drafting the necessary laws, the Judiciary is functioning well (although we are slower on the justice delivery mechanism), thus leaving the executive to execute its functions properly.