The Delhi High Court lambasted the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) for claiming that that there is a well-established system to monitor presence of pesticides in food products.
The court was adjudicating on the issue after taking notice of reports, which suggested that impermissible pesticides like Endosulfan were found in food items, vegetables and fruits, especially around Delhi.
The court said the FSSAI made ‘tall claims’ in its affidavit where it said that there were 68 state pesticide-testing laboratories, besides regional and referral laboratories for monitoring food products.
Endosulfan contamination may linger on
“We find these pleadings surprising because the material brought on record shows a picture which is far from what is painted in the affidavit,” the court said adding that impermissible pesticides have been found in food products in the region.
The FSSAI said that while Endosulfan was banned for use, its presence in food items may be evidenced over the next few years since the pesticide was already mixed with groundwater and soil.
“The burden is sought to be passed on by observing that the usage of pesticides is required to be tackled at the farmer level,” the court said, adding that there must be a comprehensive policy to check the presence of pesticides in food items.
More labs coming soon
India’s national government has taken notice of the issues around food safety monitoring. In January this year it announced a national food safety plan from which food testing labs would form a 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,” a FSSAI official 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.