Tuesday, July 23, 2024


According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), an estimated 600 million ~ almost 1 in 10 people ~ fall ill globally after eating contaminated food each year. This in turn, the WHO has said, results in 4,20,000 deaths and the loss of 33 million healthy life years. There is a tight connection between food security, nutrition and food safety. Unsafe food feeds a vicious cycle of illness and malnourishment, especially in small children, the elderly and the sick. Sustaining life and fostering good health require access to an adequate supply of safe and nutritious food. More than 200 different diseases ~ from cancer to diarrhoea ~ can be brought on by contaminated food that contains dangerous bacteria, viruses, parasites, or chemical substances. In June this year, the WHO introduced a new guideline containing recommendations on measures for creating food environments that enable healthy dietary decisions. This includes fiscal policies that discourage consuming foods that contribute to unhealthy diets and encourage consuming healthier foods through subsidies and other support. It stated that the current food environment in which many people live, work and spend their daily lives consists of highly processed and readily available foods high in unhealthy fats, sugar, and sodium. “Many of these foods are also heavily marketed and relatively cheap. As a result, consumers are often challenged to make healthy food-related decisions. Unhealthy diets are now a leading global public health risk, contributing to non-communicable diseases (NCDs) including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancers”, read the WHO publication. Against this backdrop, the irony of dangerous food practices is hard to stomach in a country celebrated for its rich gastronomic tradition and diverse cuisine. India is a major market and player in the global food scene, yet it suffers from widespread food safety challenges that put the lives of its 1.4 billion residents at danger. There are several causes for this, including corporate greed, lack of stringent monitoring, inadequate regulation and, alarmingly, nationalist pride too. At the heart of the issue lies the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI). Tasked with protecting India’s food supply, the FSSAI has an unflattering history of failing to set and uphold precise, strict guidelines. This is demonstrated by the recent ‘spice scandal’, in which news reports alluded to lowering of the allowable thresholds for pesticide residues. Instead of responding to these worries, the FSSAI dismissed the reports as false and malicious, asserting that India adheres to the strictest regulations. This defensive posturing only serves to emphasise the regulator’s detachment from reality and cast doubt on its dedication to public health protection. Corporate greed makes the issue worse. Businesses frequently put profit ahead of safety while operating in an environment where restrictions are either insufficient or poorly enforced. As a result, there are an abundance of tainted and adulterated food items on the market. Not only is this a problem in India, but it also damages the country’s standing overseas. The situation is made more difficult by the intricacy of the Indian food sector. India’s food market is primarily unorganised, in contrast to the West where it is largely organised. It is an enormous undertaking to ensure food safety in such a dispersed environment ~ though India purports to have standards that align with global norms, its execution falls short. The infrastructure for food testing in the nation is dreadfully deficient, with not enough personnel or funding to identify and correct infractions. This systematic breakdown permits contamination and adulteration to spread uncontrolled. There is an urgent need to make food safety a national priority. To do this, it is necessary to improve infrastructure, corporate responsibility, public awareness, enforce regulations more strictly and treat nutritional inadequacies. The FSSAI has to update its guidelines and make sure they are strictly adhered to. This entails thorough inspections, inquiries and sanctions against infringers. Infrastructure for food testing has to be invested in. Holding businesses responsible for following safety regulations is a must.