Article: Hiding your face on adulteration is not right

Ronit Kawale
Ronit Kawale - Senior Editor
6 Min Read

Shailendra Pandey
'Shops were built with thatched roofs, rotten wood and tin pieces and junk as per local capacity. … Almost everyone had a public favourite drink, which was made there with the help of dust, grime, reused tea leaves and boiling water etc. There were also sweets, which braved storms and attacks of flies and mosquitoes day and night. They were proof of the craftsmanship and scientific skill of our indigenous artisans. … We are the only ones in the world who know how to convert waste into delicious food items.'

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It has been almost 6 decades since Shrilal Shukla's 'Raag Darbari' was released. But, it seems that Shivpalganj and the nearby town of his novel are still stuck at the same place. Perhaps the only change that has come is that the shops have become more shiny now. But, the skill in terms of food and drink is the same old one, rather it seems that they have become more adept in this art than before. Waste is still being converted into food. And that too not in any Shivpalganj, but in the country's capital Delhi. Just a few days ago, 15 tonnes of fake masala was caught. These spices were being prepared from rotten rice, rotten coconut, coriander seeds, sawdust, bran, citric acid etc.

adulteration in spices
There was a time when the aroma of Indian spices attracted people from all over the world. Now the image of India is getting tarnished because of the same spices. Singapore, Hong Kong and Nepal have banned some spices of two big Indian brands. These countries say that there is a possibility of pesticide ethylene oxide in Indian spices. At the same time, the Food Safety Agency of Britain has said that the spices coming from India should be strictly checked. Whether FSSAI has to give clarification or not, food rules are strictly followed here.

Unapproved products

This time the finger has been pointed at spices, but the question about Indian food products is not new. In the last few years, Basmati rice and wheat grown in India have been returned due to excessive use of pesticides. Even the Turks have returned our tea leaves. No food product can reach the American market without the inspection of the US food regulatory agency FDA and in the last one year, many shipments from India have been rejected. The food safety officials of the European Union have also reported adulteration in more than 500 Indian products in the last four years.

Lower laboratory
The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) is responsible for maintaining the quality of food products in the country. The agency also conducts inspections from time to time, but the problem is that the work is not done on the scale that should be done. According to the agency's website, there are 207 NABL accredited food testing labs. This figure is of 23 April 2024. During this time, the validity of 20 labs had expired or was suspended. There are 20 referral food labs. Considering the problem of adulteration, this number should have been even higher.

weak system
Consumer Voice of Delhi is a voluntary action group that raises issues related to society. Its COO Ashim Sanyal told ET that the country's food regulator is reactive rather than proactive, that is, it waits for complaints instead of taking action itself. Sanyal says that civil society is constantly demanding that FSSAI needs a strong system for surveillance testing.

Food Diplomacy
Last year, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited America, for the first time the menu of the official banquet was kept purely vegetarian. This was a part of the food diplomacy which no country can ignore today. Today India sends rice, wheat, maize, peanuts, spices, pulses etc. to other countries.

Effects on relationships
After the Russia-Ukraine war broke out, when India satisfied the hunger of many countries with its wheat and rice, it not only increased trade but also strengthened relations with those countries. But, incidents of adulteration and poor quality affected it. If we take the case of spices, the questions arising one after the other have increased the concern. The report of the US Department of Agriculture shows that of all the food imports cancelled between 2002 and 2019, the highest, about 23 percent, were from India.

What should be done
The food regulatory authority needs to be strengthened. It should have more experts, more samples should be taken, there should be more labs in which more tests can be done. This work should not be seasonal, like action is taken only during festivals or on receiving complaints from somewhere, rather it should continue all the time. Those who play with health should be given strict punishment. The system should be so simple that even a common man can easily complain. People should be made aware about this. Adulterators are not only playing with the health of the public, but also with the image of the country and our economy.

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author's own.

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