Self-Regulation Leads to Innovation
The Regulations for food safety is an exceedingly complex issue. It requires a very difficult task of harmonization of regulations globally and the industry along with the consumer and scientific and technical updates. And interestingly, this whole process has to happen necessarily with the involvement of all.
As the regulatory norms touch several categories of foods which are becoming more complex day by day. The consumer apparently demands much more information on the label however small the label is. It is a real challenge to the regulators on the one side, the policy makers and scientists on the other side.
The Codex and regulations in each country
As Codex streamlines the overarching guidelines of food safety, it is time to remember that it is not mandatory to cut and paste the guidelines and call it regulations in any country. Why do I say this? Codex harmonizes basically the scientific principles. Science is universal and the basic principles of food safety are laid down for certain categories of food to ensure safety of food from the hygiene and contamination perspectives. But each country has to work very hard in conversion of the food safety guidelines of Codex, reviewing it every year and adding to it its own document. Same is true for Indian scenario of Industry also and makes the simple laws more complex than Codex itself.
The latest of analytical methods and safety protocols encompasses not only different categories of foods but also the culture. The scale of operation and the affordability of both packed and non packed foods where safety cannot be overlooked is taken into consideration. The reason for such an approach is to focus on more self regulations than the Inspector Raj. One requires honest, ethical and strict internal protocols for foods as well as in the public catering conditions.
FSSAI brought out the Gazette Notification of nearly 425 bioactives into the realm of adding them to foods for either nutraceuticals or nutritionals enhancement to give the benefits to the consumer a healthy food and with all approved list of ingredients in a product for the manufacturer. But it must abide to incorporate such innovations for more bio availability from bioactives and many such advancements in food science that will change the business into a different level.
The latest modifications have to address the real way to go forward in newer products which have all information inclusive and regulations umbrella being focused. The assurance of absence of pesticides taking into consideration the methods and pathogens not by over claiming the nutritional and nutraceutical content already approved but has to converge in the minds of the user. The consumers of the products must be sure that what they have purchased from the market is healthy and safe. Consumer awareness is most important and more programmes from FSSAI at rural level is the need of the hour.
The issue of recall
Many global approaches are there when a food is found to be non-safe but have already been distributed into the market. Such products have to be recalled. But in the Indian system the recall is not that easy since the traceability of the food packet from the manufacturer, to the distributor, to the retailer and to the microdelivery systems and storage level makes it much more complex to recollect. Therefore it is indeed a real challenge for India to ensure compliance at the bottom of the pyramid and to also for the macro regulations to be strictly followed by the manufacturers.
In Indian scenario, manufacturers have to be better equipped for only sampling the food but also be self-inclusive of regulations to be imbibed in their chain so that once a food is packed or given to the consumer for example such as bread. The traditional bridge from the live bakery and all the way to the community kitchen, the problem gets more and more complex in terms of traceability and enhancing more safety.
The menace of Adulteration
In case of intentional adulteration much more rigorous punishment has to be in place more and more in terms of ensuring full safety. It will also send correct signals for such adulterations as there is no end to it currently and also will not be tolerated by the consumers. With the onus on the industry self regulations will thrive and in the society it must ring a bell.
Traditional foods and regional considerations
We must remember India is one country. It requires the Food Safety and Standard Authority of India (FSSAI) even though it has one single law to the country but the freedom of certain advantages based on regions is a necessity. Since India is the group of many such regions almost like the EU and one set of food laws does not get into the traditional foods of the other region. Therefore, the cultural heritage of traditional foods and traditional ingredients as well as modern processing methods both covering FSDU and FSMP (as recommended in the gazette notification of 2018) must be looked into very carefully. It must also ensure that our export markets standards obviously have to apply locally too with the importing countries. The laws of safe food are also applicable in India and more safe foods are served to the customer as long as those industries ensure compliance of regulations.
In summary, the role of regulatory bodies is to assure safe food for all. It is not that easy to lay down the regulations following all the way to ground reality and also keeping in view of the adulteration database. And also, the modifications have to be year after year and have to be dynamic.
(About the author: V. Prakash, Ph.D, FRSC is Vice President of the International Union of Nutritional Sciences and is the former Director of CFTRI and is Distinguished Scientist of CSIR.)