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Can we win the war against food adulteration in Mysore?

Can we win the war against food adulteration in Mysore?

05-Jan-2017

After environmental protection, food adulteration may be the biggest
problem staring at us in India. Food samples taken from all states of India
has revealed in 2015 that one out of five, i.e. 20% are adulterated in one
way or the other. Some adulteration is driven by a simple goal of
maximizing profit without causing any health problems. But there are
several instances where adulteration is done intentionally (though ignorant
of the harmful impact) or unintentionally (large scale use of pesticides in
unscientific ways) resulting in cancer, skin problems, stomach disorders,
liver damage, blindness, edema, kidney failure, etc. Why are we then
indifferent?
One of the often adulterated food item is milk. At all India level, 2/3 of milk
samples taken did not meet the minimum standards. And 6% of the
samples had detergent and urea, harmful chemicals. It is easy to detect
such adulterants. Still it is prevalent.
In 2015, lead and MSG in Nestleʼs Maggi became a big issue and scared
many consumers from purchasing it. In the initial stage Maggi issue raised
the awareness of harmful impact of food adulteration caused by higher
levels of lead and MSG. However later tests revealed that the officials
might have been hasty in blaming the company. When we look back, the
entire Maggi episode looks like the boy shouting wolf, wolf to get attention
of the people in the often repeated story not to scare people unnecessarily.
Now people may think that any one raising a red flag on food adulteration
may not be telling the truth and just wants to scare people.
Here in our city, Mysore Grahakara Parishat led by retired chemist, C V
Nagaraj has been educating Mysoreans about the harmful effects of food
adulteration by holding food adulteration demonstration since its inception
in 1989. In early years, MGP took samples of food items from different
mohallas and got them tested by CFTRI or other private labs like Ganesh
Consultancy. Samples have revealed even higher percentage of
adulteration than at the national level. MGP has conduced over 3000 food 
adulteration demonstrations at schools, service organizations like Rotary,
LIons, in crowed markets, villages, etc. Despite all the efforts of MGP, level
of adulteration in the city has not showed any improvement.
One of the reasons for indifference of people is the failure of consumer
movement to take off in Mysore. Another reason is the inability of the
people to connect cause and result of food adulteration when they fall sick.
Those who eat adulterated food do not fall sick immediately, and get
diseases like cancer, liver failure, blindness only after several years. As a
result people do not realize that it was all that adulterated food which had
given rise to such dreadful diseases. Unfortunately our research efforts
also do not try to highlight in simple language to educate people on their
findings when any research is carried at all in our universities on food
adulteration.
It is not because of any lack of proper laws we are unable to control food
adulteration. There are enough of them. It is in their implementation we
have failed miserably. Way back we had Food Adulteration Act in 1954. It
was completely revised in 2006 and we had Food safety and standards Act
which came into force from 2010. FSSA was simplified in some aspects to
reduce corruption by removing the scope for official discretion. Under
FSSA, central government took over the implementation of the act. As in
the case of FAA, government has failed in the implementation of FSSA.
Last year Consumer Affairs minister Ram Vilas Paswan made a startling
comment that when in the developed world people cannot imagine food
with adulteration, in India we cannot imagine food without adulteration.
Before FSSA, MCC was in charge of controlling food adulteration in the
city. However successive commissioners and mayors totally failed to
ensure proper implementation of the act despite having a well equipped
lab. No attempt was made to fill the position of food analyst despite the
pressure by NGOs. Now there is a different department under FSSA to give
licenses to all establishments selling food items and also to ensure there is
no adulteration. Though on paper this office should have 12 staff members,
there are only three. One can only imagine what efforts they will be able to
make to ensure food we take is not adulterated. 
Unless we the people get up from deep slumber and start putting pressure
on our elected representatives for proper implementation of FSSA, Mysore
will not be able to win the war against food adulteration. With two premier
food research institutions, CFTRI and DFRL, Mysore should be the first city
in India to have zero food adulteration.
It is not that any shop owner or hotel owner would like to give adulterated
food items to their customers. Some times it is the ignorance on their part
and they may use adulterants like metanil yellow to make the food items
look attractive. Often they buy from manufacturers or wholesalers
adulterated food items (presence of pesticides and chemicals) and they
may not be aware of the problem. Only proper implementation of FSSA can
put a stop to such practices. Stakeholders like doctors, hospitals (who want
to ensure good health to their patients through prevention), shop owners,
hotel owners, NGO activists, etc. should come together to start a
movement to demand proper implementation of FSSA. Is it a dream to wish
for such a movement?