Over food law enforcement

Published: Monday 15 September 2003

an unsavoury inter-ministerial squabble is obstructing the formulation of a unified food law for India. The sticking point is who gets to play the regulator. And the contenders are the Union ministry of health and family welfare (mohfw), and Union ministry of food processing industries (mofpi).

The health ministry argues that since the mofpi promotes the food processing industry, it should not be assigned the task of policing it. On the other hand the mofpi contends that the mohfw already has its plate full, saddled as it is with numerous health issues. Indications are that the standoff will not end in the near future.

That the measure brooks no delay is evident from the fact that at present about 14 different regulations -- some contradicting each other -- govern the food sector in the country. For instance, turmeric powder is covered by the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act (pfa), 1954, and agmark. While the latter specifies a limit of 2.5 parts per million (ppm) for lead, it is 10 ppm under pfa. A single law would help to remove such ambiguities.

The unification of the existing rules was proposed by the mofpi in 2001 and the process began in 2002. The bill has been prepared after consultative meetings of a committee comprising six ministries. Under the new law an independent regulatory body would be set up to ensure compliance. It will collaborate with domestic research organisations and laboratories. Punishment to offenders will be graded according to the seriousness of the offence. Food alerts would also be released for consumers.

Experts like Vijay Sardana of the Centre for Trade in Agriculture and Agro-based Industry, New Delhi, feel that instead of conducting such an elaborate exercise, a mere harmonisation of current laws would have sufficed.

Subscribe to Weekly Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.