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India sets out on grand food safety plan

By Ankush Chibber , 24-Jan-2012

Alarmed at the various adulteration surveys that have revealed potentially dangerous food safety issues, the Indian government has decided to go the whole way in ensuring food safety in the country.

According to a source within the Planning Commission of India, an agency that lays out development plans for the country and the budgets for them, food safety would be given top priority under a new food safety plan.

The total budget for this plan is a mammoth US$1.3bn, which would be spent on the food safety initiative during the 12th Five Year Plan, which spans the period of 2012-17, the planning commission official told FoodNavigator-Asia.

Food labs to form backbone

The plan will cluster laboratories of accredited standards for every four to five districts in the country to carry out basic tests. According to the 2011 Census of India, the country has 640 districts.

These would be supplemented by zonal food laboratories, of which there would be one in every 10 districts, to perform tests for residues and heavy metals. In addition, there would be 10 referral laboratories on top of this pyramid,” he said.

According to the official, the government is aiming to get a robust and efficient structure of laboratories in place to form the basis of its push towards increased food safety in the country.

“The government also wants mobile labs that would be able to serve large populations in case of food safety-related disease outbreak and also to provide testing abilities in remote areas,” he said.

More offices, more institutes

Apart from the laboratories, the government would also use the plan to further the reach of the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), according to the official.

“The plan is to set up food safety offices in every district of the country at an investment of US$440m. These offices would be responsible for enforcing food safety measures and standards at a district level,” he said.

In addition, the government also plans to set up the National Food Science and Risk Assessment Centre at an investment of US$31m, which would operate under the direct control of the FSSAI.

“This institute would conduct regulatory research and risk assessment at an apex level, It would also closely liaise with overseas institutions like US-based Centre for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition [part of the Food and Drug Administration],” he said.

According to the official, this centre would be the bearer of all food standards and it would also be the apex body during a food safety issue. “It would be responsible for the analysis of food safety data received from labs and assessing risk in that particular case.”

Old hands to receive a hand

The central government would also overhaul of the Central Food Laboratories in Mumbai and Kolkata at an investment of US$8m, according to the official, as well as invest a further US$104m in creating awareness of food safety-related issues in the country.

The old national food safety helpline would also be invested into, including incentivising the reporting of unsafe food and malpractices within or outside the system using cash rewards.

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