New Delhi: In a scathing report, a parliamentary panel has rapped the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) over weak enforcement of food safety laws, leading to “rampant food adulteration" by manufacturers and producers. The report by the standing committee on health and family welfare, presented to the Rajya Sabha last week, recommended the restructuring of the FSSAI— an autonomous body under the health ministry.

The panel observed that the quality of food is deteriorating and use of contaminants is increasing. Milk and food items that were safe previously were no longer safe because of adulteration, while there has been a tremendous increase in the use of hazardous chemicals for artificial ripening of fruits and vegetables.

The implementation and enforcement of the Food Safety and Standards (FSS) Act, 2006 rests primarily with state and Union territory governments, for which regular surveillance, monitoring and inspection is required to be undertaken by them.

“The Committee however notes that many states do not have a separate food safety department. Food adulteration, lack of quality checks, misleading labelling, sale of defective food products etc. that have become the norm these days are primarily an offshoot of absence of a dedicated and robust food safety apparatus at the State level," the report said.

“The policies and the existing food laws are inadequate and are weakly enforced. This poor implementation of the Food Law has resulted in rampant food adulteration and various food scandals. Substandard quality food has been reaching the market and causing irreparable damage to public health," the report said.

With staff drawn from states, the committee said FSSAI cannot function at its optimum level without employing technical persons as permanent staff. It recommended that FSSAI be restructured and people with domain knowledge and expertise in food hired to run it.

“Food safety is a specialized job and FSSAI being a science based organization should be equipped with proper tools and capabilities and headed by someone with the requisite technical acumen and appropriate expertise to address the challenging task of food regulation for a country like India," the report said.

“Engaging manpower with technical skill and competence, therefore, becomes imperative for effective rendering of important mandate given to FSSAI. The Committee is of the opinion that the regulatory body should be run by experts or scientists in the food sector with bureaucratic support," it said.

The parliamentary panel also highlighted that the health ministry’s Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme (IDSP) has indicated that food poisoning was one of the commonest outbreaks reported in 2017 apart from acute diarrhoeal disease (ADD). The data suggest that 312 of the 1649 outbreaks reported till the third week of December, 2017 were due to ADD and 242 were due to food poisoning. The incidence of ADD and food poisoning was high in places where food is cooked in bulk, such as canteens, hotels and weddings.