A central food authority along the lines of the United States food and drug administration (USFDA) will be operational by July.
The authority will be under the administrative jurisdiction of the ministry of health and family welfare. This is because it already enforces the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act.
The idea of a central food regulatory authority was first mooted by the ministry of food processing industries, when it tabled the Food Safety and Standards Bill in August 2005. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, however, decided to pass administrative control of the authority to the ministry of health after the Bill was passed in 2006.
“The ministry is still working on some details of the food authority. I have met with the commissioner of the USFDA to see how we can organize our system,” Union health minister Anbumani Ramadoss said at the first International Food Regulatory Summit 2007, organized by the Confederation of Indian Industry on Tuesday.
“You can pass a Bill and install the regulatory mechanism, but the main thing is enforcement,” said R.K. Bansal, director in the food processing ministry. “The question is how the (health) ministry is going to implement the regulatory mechanism at the grass-roots level.”
The authority, which will be headed by a food commissioner, will have 23 members representing industry and consumers, apart from independent technical experts.
The authority will include a scientific committee and a central advisory committee with food laboratories and safety inspectors reporting to them, Ramadoss said.
“Setting up a clear, well-articulated food management strategy requires political will,” said Ezzeddine Boutrif, chief of food quality and standards service at the Food and Agriculture Organization. “The government needs to develop a national food control strategy after checking existing systems,” he added.
The Food Safety and Standards Act also proposes that the commissioner of the central food authority be vested with powers to refer offences which carry a term of three years to criminal courts, while those with longer sentences be referred to special courts.