Food safety ecosystem

The move to do away with Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) or AGMARK certification for food products is aimed at facilitating the ease of doing food business in India.
Food safety ecosystem

The move to do away with Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) or AGMARK certification for food products is aimed at facilitating the ease of doing food business in India. The Food Safety Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) will be the only certification authority, and food businesses will not be required to approach multiple authorities for mandatory certificates to do business. The impact of agricultural products losing exclusivity on quality and standards among other food products on farmers and the overall agriculture sector will be critical to evaluating the outcome of the move. The central government says the move is aligned with the proposed concept of “One Nation, One Commodity, One Regulator,” which also implies that states are poised to lose their control over the food business once the FSSAI decision is implemented. Apart from boosting the confidence of consumers about the quality and standards of agricultural products, the use of AGMARK also provides benefits to farmers, with various states offering extra subsidies to promote the use of certification. These benefits being protected under the proposed single regulatory regime will be crucial to encouraging farmers to actively participate in FSSAI certification. The FSSAI, being understaffed, faces the daunting challenges of enforcing quality and standards and clearing backlogs. This gives rise to the key challenge of implementing the decision at the pan-India level, and active cooperation by the states will be essential to overcome it. The robustness of the FSSAI surveillance system is essential to ensuring that the food available on the market is safe and meets all safety standards. The surveillance is carried out to identify hotspots of food adulteration and violations of safety standards. Deployment and strengthening of more mobile food testing laboratories, rapid analytical food testing, and organic food testing facilities can be effective only if adequate skilled manpower is deployed to carry out the surveillance and detect any malpractices in food businesses. Food business operators getting their certification in time is of paramount importance for economic viability and sustainability in competitive markets. Standards notified as per the provisions of the Agricultural Produce (Grading & Marking) Act, 1937, are known as AGMARK Standards. According to the Directorate of Marketing and Inspection (DMI), these standards differentiate between quality, and 2-3 grades are prescribed for each commodity. Grades help farmers get prices for agricultural commodities as per the quality produced by them, and consumers get the desired quality. To date, grade standards for 222 agricultural commodities have been notified. These include fruits, vegetables, cereals, pulses, oilseeds, vegetable oils, ghee, spices, honey, creamery butter, wheat atta, besan, etc., as highlighted in the information placed on the DMI website. Persons desirous of grading and certifying a notified commodity under AGMARK should have the necessary infrastructure to process the commodity, have access to an approved laboratory for grading, or have their own laboratory. Such persons can apply to the concerned office of the DMI, and a Certificate of Authorization is granted after verification of the necessary infrastructure. The approved chemist tests the raw material and the processed commodity before getting them packed in suitable packing material or containers. The field officers of DMI keep regular checks on the commodities graded and certified under AGMARK by drawing check samples from packers’ premises and markets. These check samples are analyzed in Regional AGMARK Laboratories, and action deemed fit is taken if the graded commodity is found to not conform to the prescribed standards. It explains the certification and enforcement process. From the perspective of consumers looking for quality and safe agricultural products, the FSSAI as the single regulatory authority ensuring a similar rigorous certification will be crucial to boosting confidence in the new regime. Consumers could complain about the quality of certified products if they are not satisfied with AGMARK products. Besides, anyone keen to get the AGMARK-certified agricultural commodity analysed for its quality parameters in regional laboratories by paying analysis charges The consumers getting these opportunities under the new regulatory regime and getting their grievances redressed without delay will help build the desired ecosystem. Consumers having more confidence in quality control mechanisms should get equal priority as ease of doing business. Delay in the analysis of products can affect both food businesses and consumer trust, which is unwarranted. Besides, weak surveillance due to understaffing may allow fraudulent food business operators to supply inferior-quality products and dupe consumers by using fake FSSAI certification. The FSSAI approving a first-of-its-kind and comprehensive manual of methods of analysis for ensuring regulatory compliance of food products is good news, but the government ensuring adequate infrastructure for faster scientific analysis and enforcement of compliance will be key to achieving the desired objectives. With food businesses having serious implications for public health, states also need to mobilize resources and increase allocations for strengthening surveillance mechanisms. The deployment of more mobile testing laboratories can strengthen the food safety ecosystem.

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