Local bodies like panchayats are traditionally assigned functions related to ‘neighbourhood’ public goods like sanitation and water supply. Food, being an immediate need sourced mainly from local, informal vendors, should hence come under the head of ‘neighbourhood’ public good, and should be regulated and monitored with the help of local bodies.
Local regulations and implementation can also lead to increased interaction between stakeholders like farmers, traders and consumers. As a result, regulations can be tailored for the diverse socio-economic characteristics of municipalities.
It can also allow pooling of resources including information, and encourage the innovation and spread of more artisanal production techniques, which are currently restricted by the centralised regulations.
Is this doable for BBMP?
Take Bengaluru. Section 247(1) of the Karnataka Municipalities Act, 1964, authorises a Municipal Commissioner, Chief Officer or any person authorised by the Council to inspect markets and other places used for the storage and sale of goods. The section also gives the authority powers to seize goods that are harmful or adulterated.
Additionally, BBMP’s functions include orderly development of the city with respect to health, hygiene, licensing, trade and quality of life. Since food is a fundamental and immediate aspect of life, its regulation and monitoring would fall within BBMP’s core functions.
Involving local bodies like BBMP would:
Make the process of approving products easier
Allow for more frequent checks and monitoring
Allow negotiation and mediation between various stakeholders as per local customs
BBMP should monitor raw food and vendors too
Urban local bodies can also widen the scope of their monitoring, from restaurants to raw foods and vendors. BBMP already conducts raids on restaurants and resto-pubs for unhygienic food, and has decided to conduct such raids at least twice a week. Expanding upon these functions, BBMP could examine raw produce before it makes its way to consumers’ houses.
For example, in fish markets in Bengaluru, formalin may be used to increase the shelf life of stock. FSSAI conducts checks only twice a month, but new stocks of fish enter markets every day and are being sold without adequate checking.
HAL fish market. Checks on fish quality need to be more frequent.
If checks can be done at least once a week, it would be more effective for the FSSAI to work alongside the BBMP. Currently, BBMP can only give or cancel licenses once FSSAI finds formalin. But if BBMP is allowed to conduct its own checks as well, the monitoring system would be more efficient. FSSAI could also then improve its food safety knowledge through increased access to data collected by BBMP.
Besides, BBMP would be better-equipped than FSSAI to conduct regular checks on the Public Distribution System (PDS). Thirty seven per cent of poor households obtain food from the PDS, where adulteration abounds. Examples are the adulteration of spices sold in an open, powdered-form, where the adulterants may even be carcinogenic; or the adulteration of milk, leading to undernutrition.
Restrictions in reporting unsafe food
Currently, the onus is on ill-informed consumers to report any infraction by vendors, to the Food Safety Department. And this is to be done through an online portal. This makes the system reliant on the information of a few individuals with the knowledge and resources to report violations.
To better involve consumers in food regulation, targeted programmes for public participation and consumer education should be initiated, as was done in the US by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1985. Under this programme, information was given on nutrition labelling, on food safety in the home, on the administrative procedures of the FDA, and so on.
The current regulations also show a poor understanding of the environment. Centralised systems increase the travel distance from the field to the marketplace. This is because the nearest FSSAI centre for food testing would be farther away than the nearest local regulator, especially in rural areas. This results in the planting of only those crops that can be easily transported and stored for longer periods of time.
Decentralisation essential for sustainable, efficient food system
Given these, FSSAI’s functions should be restricted to prescribing a structure, coordinating, and facilitating work, while allowing state authorities to set regulations that are specialised to their regions. Local bodies like BBMP can strongly enforce these regulations and can use their judgment to declare whether a food product is safe.
A centralised system is also incompatible with the Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) system which is supposed to prevent exploitation of farmers by their creditors. APMC Acts of different states have significant differences in commodity coverage and in the extent of powers of agricultural marketing boards. Differentiated and localised regulations would ensure there are no discrepancies in terms of commodities covered by the APMC Act of that particular state.
Furthermore, APMC Acts allow state governments to involve local governments in the process of regulation. The Karnataka Agricultural Product Marketing (Regulation and Development) [APM] Rules, 1968, under Section 92(1), empowers panchayats to check for licenses of sellers, to supervise sale, delivery, and other matters, thereby allowing a certain level of decentralisation. Section 91-A also looks at contract farming – ensuring through specific, localised rules – that farmers are not exploited.
To conclude, for a food regulation system to be efficient and environmentally sustainable, the regulations should be decentralised. Such regulations will also be region-specific and more accessible to all stakeholders.
PUNJAB / CHANDIGARH / HARYANA
Ahead of Holi, the Gautam Budh Nagar food and safety department has made three teams to inspect snacks and milk products in the district. From February 24, officials will start focusing on shops and stores selling milk products and snacks.
“We have made three teams which will focus on snacks and milk products being sold at various sweet shops and food outlets. We have been receiving a lot of complaints regarding the quality of paneer being used by restaurants and food outlets in the district. Ahead of Holi, we will focus on the quality of milk products to ensure the safety of consumers,” Sanjay Sharma, food safety officer, Gautam Budh Nagar, said. “The temperature has started increasing following which the chances of milk products getting spoiled increases.”
“Each team that will conduct inspections will have three food safety officers (FSO),” Sharma added.
Between April 2019 and January 2020, the food department officials collected and tested over 440 samples. The results of around 380 samples have come, out of which 156 samples did not pass the quality tests. According to the officials, most of the failed 156 samples are milk products.
Officials can file a case against the persons from whose outlets the sub-standard samples were collected in the additional chief judicial magistrate’s court after taking sanction from the commissioner of the state food safety department in Lucknow. The defaulters can be imposed a penalty and even imprisoned from one to six years by the ACJM court.
For the last 20 days, officials have been focusing on canteens and restaurants in the district and have conducted around 150 inspections until now. From February 24 to March 10, officials will be inspecting sweet shops and restaurants which are visited by many people during festivals.
“In the coming three weeks, we will mostly be checking sweets and snacks in the district. We have collected several samples in the last 20 days and found many sub-standard food milk products,” Sharma said.
On January 1, the state government had ordered that every FSO in the district needs to conduct at least 40 inspections a month. There are nine FSOs in the district and as per the new orders, they will need to conduct at least 360 total inspections in a month.
The order has also said that all the details of every inspection and the suggestions made for improvement to owners of food outlets should be documented in a report. The detailed report should be submitted to the senior officials concerned within three working days.
In January, officials had conducted more than 349 inspections and served 28 notices to various restaurants, canteens, manufacturing units among others.
Ambala, February 19
In order to ensure food safety standards in schools and colleges, the Food and Drug Administration has asked institutes to ensure that canteen operators get the food safety training through the FSSAI authorised trainers by March end.
Selling food items without food safety and training certificate may attract a penalty ranging from Rs 2 lakh to Rs 5 lakh.
As per the FSSAI, it is mandatory for food business operators and people engaged in preparing food items to get the training, as per the Food Safety and Standard Act -2006 and Food Safety and Standard Rules-2011 from the FSSAI authorised training partners.
Subhash Chander, Food Safety Officer, Ambala, said, “People who have been running restaurants, hotels, dhabas and even street vendors are being provided food safety and training certification. Schools and colleges have also been asked to get the training of their canteen operators done before March end. Besides private schools, the Education Department has been asked to ensure training of midday meal workers as well.”
Deputy District Education Officer Sudhir Kalra said, “Midday meal workers are provided training by the department to maintain hygiene while preparing food. We also keep taking the feedback from children about quality of food. If the department wants to provide special training then we will organise training sessions and call the cooks in batches.”
Joint Director Secondary Education Department Satinder Siwatch has expressed concern over the quality of food being served to students in schools.
Siwatch said, “The students are being provided junk food in schools. They should be served nutritious food.”
Kulbhushan Sharma, president, National Independent Schools Alliance, said, “We want to provide healthy food to students and the Central Government is preparing a policy in this regard. We had a meeting with the FSSAI in this regard.”
BIHAR / JHARKHAND
Drive to ensure only licensed vendors operate, and to keep check on food quality
Street vendors in Sakchi, Jamshedpur, on Thursday.
The city civic body will digitise licensed street vendor’s records to end the perennial problem of traffic congestion and to ensure quality of food dished out in commercial hubs.
More than 4,000 licensed street vendors in commercial hubs of the city will have smart chip cards containing the biometric data and all details of the licence holder including name, age, address, contact number, licence number and photograph.
Hawkers selling food will need to have the food safety licence from the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), which is issued by district civil surgeon.
“We would be issuing tender to a private agency for making the smart chip card for the vendors soon based on the survey record,” said Vishal Kumar, city mission manager, Jamshedpur Notified Area Committee (JNAC). “It will help us in knowing the locations where these vendors put up their stalls. The private agency will put in the data. We will also ask vendors to enter their details at our office in the next few weeks. We hope to have the smart chip cards ready by April and implement it from then.”
He said the move will help enforcement squads take action against illegal vendors.
“Our enforcement squad will have the QR code scanner machine and during special drive against illegal vendors we will scan the smart chip cards to get entire details,” Kumar said. “If the vendors are found putting their stalls in a location other than the one in which they are allotted we will confiscate their goods and levy fines. We hope that after regularisation of vendors the problem of squatting on roads leading to traffic congestion would be curbed to a great extent.”
Now, authorised vendors have hard (paper) copies of their authorisation and it is often difficult for the enforcement squad to verify the details because the vendors make other people man the stalls. “It (digitisation) would make our task easier to know if they have the mandatory FSSAI license which is renewed annually by the district health department and is aimed at curbing sale of adulterated and poor quality food,” said the JNAC city mission manager.
There are dedicated vending zones in Golmuri, Sidhgora, Kadma and Bistupur but vendors often prefer to squat by roads to attract customers.