Spotlight on food products made in India after Maggi ban but how safe are food imports?

This piece originally appeared on Livemint.com

 

The recent ban on Maggi noodles puts a lens on the deficiencies of the food regulator to test products made in India. The problem is compounded for food products from other countries: the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) fails in its own stated objective to test every import consignment.

Import coverage

The stated objective of the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) is to test every import consignment. But in 2013-14, matching FSSAI test data with food imports shows that, at 7,246 tonnes of consignment volume, FSSAI tested only about 0.004% of food products entering India. In comparison, the United States Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) physically examined 1.9% of its food import lines in 2011-12.

 

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Testing

Part of the reason is presence. According to FSSAI, it has a presence in only 16 of the 673 entry points into India; additionally, it works with 68 registered laboratories. In 2013-14, FSSAI examined 53,692 consignments of food products weighing 7,246 tonnes. It rejected 371 consignments, amounting to 0.21% of the quantity sought to be imported.

 

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Sampling

Then, the sample sizes drawn by it are without relation to consignment size. “For example, if 10,000 SKUs (stock-keeping units) are being imported and in another case 1 lakh SKUs are being imported, the number of samples drawn for testing should be different, which is not happening,” says Ashwin Bhadri, chief executive of Equinox Labs, a registered laboratory.

 

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Funding

Despite an apparent need to build testing infrastructure, FSSAI is not using the entire funds available with it. It is now looking to move towards random- and risk-based inspections like the US, which has an automated system that, according to the USFDA’s annual report, “uses data analytics from the entire lifecycle of a product to better identify and target high-risk products”.

 

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Data sources: FSSAI, ministry of commerce; all data for 2013-14.

 

 

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