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India’s food regulator should learn from middle-income countries: Report

LiveMint logoLiveMint 24-07-2017 Sounak Mitra

New Delhi: To ensure safe food across the country, India needs to look beyond food regulations in the United States and learn from the middle income countries, like Vietnam, New Zealand, China, Netherlands and the UK, Donald Macrae, senior consultant on regulatory reform, World Bank Group, said in a report on the country’s food regulator Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI).

Macrae’s report was based on FSSAI’s request to the Global Food Safety Partnership (GFSP), a public-private initiative of the World Bank Group, to advise it on international engagements.

“Most of its (FSSAI’s) partnerships have been with developed countries but it has much to learn from other middle income countries that are facing similar issues at present or have faced them recently and moved through them,” Macrae said in the report.

With an engagement with Vietnam, FSSAI can learn impact of slow urbanisation and how to deal with rural population (close to 70% India’s population still live in rural areas), and how to establish surveillance plans for sampling nationwide among others, the report noted.

From China, it could learn how to deal with scaling up operations that covers 1.3 billion people, risk assessment, adaptation of modern systems and seamless co-ordination between the centre, states and the municipalities, Macrae said.

According to Macrae, FSSAI should follow the United Kingdom for regulatory delivery, regulating the ‘meta-market’, third party certification, risk-based inspection and planning, consumer focus and trust. The Indian food regulator should learn risk communication and compliance support from Netherlands and New Zealand respectively, he added.

FSSAI, which came in the limelight in June 2015 for cracking down on Nestle India Ltd after the Swiss food-maker’s popular snack Maggi instant noodles were suspected to contain fragrance enhancer monosodium glutamate and excess lead, mainly follows the US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) to set standards and rules regarding food safety.

“For FSSAI, the regulatory objective is to ensure a supply of safe and wholesome food, not to ensure a revenue stream of fines for violations. Punishing those who do not comply because of capacity issues does not solve their capacity issues or deliver safe and wholesome food,” Macrae said in an emailed response to Mint queries.

According to Macrae, under Pawan Kumar Agarwal, the current chief executive officer of FSSAI, the regulator is focusing on the new approach of “supporting those willing to comply, in order that their challenges in complying are overcome and they then deliver safe and wholesome food”. “This focus is in line with what is happening across the world and FSSAI is being truly innovative in tackling this new approach,” added Macrae.

Agarwal could not be reached for comments

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