Monday, November 12, 2007

Will proposed Food Safety Agency undo the wrongs?

Food Safety Agency is likely to be set up in India by the end of this year to set stricter standards and recall procedures after having attempted streamlining of food laws by enacting a new overarching food safety law in 2006 to create an agency along the lines of the US Food and Drug Administration. The Food Safety and Standards Bill, 2006 as passed by Parliament has been enacted from August 24. The President gave his assent to the legislation on August 23, 2006.

It is claimed that the enactment takes care of international practices in guiding and regulating persons engaged in the manufacture, marketing, processing, handling, transportation, import and sale of food. It seeks to serve the consumers’ interests through food safety systems. It sets scientific standards and transparency to meet the dynamic needs of the food trade and industry sector as also international trade practices in processed food.

The proposed Food Safety agency, envisaged in the Food Safety and Standards Act will set standards for pesticides, additives, supplements, organic food and hygiene for locally produced and imported food.

Contamination and adulteration of foods is a worrying commentary on the state of India's 100-billion-dollar food market, about a third of which is processed foods. India uses about 30,000 tons of pesticides a year, more than 60 percent of it on food crops. It is worrisome that food standards apply only when the food item is in market and not before that when they are in the agricultural field.

Most of the countries of the world, developed or developing are the members of Codex Alimentarius Commission. The Codex Commission while discussing the Strategic Framework and the Action Plan has emphasised the need to encourage developing countries to convene Codex Committee meetings periodically.

The Codex Committee on Food Hygiene (CCFH) is responsible for drafting basic provisions on food hygiene applicable to all food as well as for considering amendments if necessary pertaining to the provisions on hygiene contained in Codex Commodity Standard. The technical meeting of the CCFH is held every year. CCFH is one of the important committees whose deliberations have impact on Indian exports. It is considered useful that various segments of Trade and Industry be exposed to its deliberations. In view of this, the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare organised the 39th Session of the Codex Committee on Food Hygiene from 30th October – 4th November 2007.

Panabaka Lakshmi, Minister of State for Health & Family Welfare opined that food safety legislation alone is not enough to maintain a high quality of food hygiene. It must be complemented by efforts to improve the overall standard of education among consumers. This is a fundamental area where progress could easily be made by teaching basic food hygiene in schools and through the media.
Following the recommendations of an ad hoc panel chaired by India, the 39th session of the Codex Committee on Food Hygiene (CCFH), has agreed to take up the new work on the code of hygienic practices for fresh fruits and vegetables. The CCFH agreed that the US should take the initiative and set up an electronic working group for receiving comments and suggestions. The electronic working group would be open to all interested parties.
The 40th session of CCFH is scheduled to take place in the US in December 1-5, 2008. Guatemala, which expressed its desire to co-host the meeting, has been told to take up the issue with the US Codex Secretariat.
On the issue, the use of lifting the restrictions on the use of lactoperoxidase system (LPS) for milk and milk products in global trade, the 39th CCFH decided to refer the issue to the Codex Alimentarius Commission to clarify and explain that "restriction of the use of the LPS for milk in global trade in no way precluded the use of the system by countries at the national level."
The 39th CCFH also decided to work on proposed guidelines for control of Campylobacter and Salmonella spp in broiler (young birds), chicken meat, meat carcass, and portions. CCFH will also coordinate with the world organisation for animal health - OIE - which is working on the issue at the primary level. The FAO has also drafted a document on good practices for poultry. The CCFH has decided to finalise the proposed guidelines on basis of the code of hygienic practices for meat (CAC/RCP 58-2005) and where specific information on Campylobacter and Salmonella in birds other than broilers was lacking.
It was decided that "since the structure of the microbiological risk management metrics annex had substantially changed, there was no longer any need to develop an annex to the code of hygienic practices on liquid eggs."
The 39th CCFH noted the need to provide a more detailed scientific approach for the proposed draft on Listeria Monocytogenes in ready-to-eat foods. It deliberated on the proposed drafts on hygienic practices for powdered formula for infant and young children, validation of food safety control measures, conduct of microbiological risk management, and metrics.
The CCFH meeting was attended by Naresh Dayal, Secretary, Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Debasish Panda, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Health & Family Welfare and Co-chairperson, Codex Committee on Food Hygiene, officials from the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare and representatives of WHO and FAO. Nearly 200 delegates from all over the world, both developing and developed countries participated in it.

The Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) was created in 1961/62 by Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO), to develop food standards, guidelines and related texts such as codes of practice under the Joint FAO/WHO Food Standards Programme. The main purpose of this Programme is to protect the health of consumers, ensure fair practices in the food trade, and promote coordination of all food standards work undertaken by international governmental and non-governmental organizations.

"Codex India" the National Codex Contact Point (NCCP) for India, is located at the Directorate General Of Health Services, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MOH&FW), Government of India. It coordinates and promotes Codex activities in India in association with the National Codex Committee and facilitates India's input to the work of Codex through an established consultation process.

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