Experts raise questions on FSSAI draft about conflict of interest

The draft is silent on many aspects which proves that FSSAI wants to remain non-transparent, they say

By Jitendra
Published: Wednesday 09 October 2019
The FSSAI draft proposes the setting up of laboratories on public private partnerships. This is the FSSAI National Food Lab in Ghaziabad. Photo: @MoHFW_INDIA

Experts have raised questions over the draft framework prepared by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) to engage with private entities.

The food regulator has been facing a barrage of criticism ever since it took a decision over making food fortification illegal.

The draft itself does not provide enough clarity that can bring transparency into the system and revive consumer confidence. The FSSAI usually maintains a silence on issues such as checks and balances while dealing with civil society and private food producers and associations.

In the draft, the FSSAI has proposed allowing members to voluntarily declare a ‘conflict of interest’ or ‘recuse’ themselves before any meeting of the Food Authority and Central Advisory Council.

But it is silent on the type of ‘format’ to check voluntary declaration. There is a further question mark over the grievance redressal mechanism if one violates the declaration.

“The format should be like United Nations bodies like the World Health Organization or the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which include the claims of participants to avoid conflict of interest,” Vijay Sardana, agriculture policy and trade expert, said.

According to media reports, FSSAI’s scientific panels are made up of experts who have strong links with food and beverages companies.

For instance, the Standard Review Group (SRG), which reviews existing food standards, identifies gaps and suggests changes, is currently made up of members from private food associations.

The draft proposes the inclusion of representatives from reputed consumer rights groups and civil society organisations in the SRG and other technical panels.

But it is not clear about what the nature of the civil society groups should be. “There are a number of civil society groups funded by multinationals, which are on the advisory board of the FSSAI. This is a direct conflict of interest,” Ashwini Mahajan, national convener of Swadeshi Jagran Manch, said.

“There should be a policy to see to it that no foreign-funded civil society groups are on any board of authority,” Sardana said.

Besides, the draft also proposes dissemination of information, training and education through private parties. Experts feels that this part should also be under the FSSAI’s control.

The draft proposes the setting up of laboratories on public private partnerships and the testing of food at laboratories certified by the National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories.

“There is the important question of putting the results of food tests in the public domain on which the draft is silent,” Sardana said. “The draft is silent on a number of aspects which indicates the authority wants to keep its affairs non-transparent,” he added.

The draft was released on October 4 and is open for public comments.

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