The Comptroller and Auditor General of India’s (CAG) audit report on the performance of FSSAI and implementation of the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 found shortcomings. These include systemic inefficiencies like delays or deficiencies in the framing of various regulations and standards, amendments to regulations in violation of the Act including specific directions of the Supreme Court. Most of the state food laboratories entrusted with food testing and certification functions were not only ill-equipped but also did not possess the National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories (NABL) accreditation. Enforcement activities relating to licensing, registration, inspection, sampling and prosecution were inadequate. The report went on to say that the FSSAI has failed to finalize the recruitment regulations and there were irregularities in the appointment of contractual employees.
FSSAI Response: While appreciating the CAG inputs to improve the performance of food safety, the FSSAI is disappointed that the CAG has not been able to see the FSSAI working in the context of the huge and complex task at hand and the fact that
FSSAI is new an evolving organization and it faces severe constraints of manpower and resources. It would have been useful if the report had noted a lot of very useful work done by the FSSAI over years that has helped to raise the profile of food safety in the country significantly in recent years. For instance
- FSSAI has developed the web-based Inspection System FoSCoRIS (Food Safety and Compliance through Regular Inspections and Sampling) based on Standardised Checklist for inspections of Food Businesses by Food Safety Officers in the field. The web-based FoSCoRIS system will help verify compliance with food safety and hygiene standards by food businesses. FoSCoRIS guarantees uniformity, transparency and enables the Food Safety Authorities to monitor it digitally.
- Coordination Mechanism on Food Regulatory Ecosystem to facilitate Investment and Trade FSSAI has established a robust procedure for information sharing and coordination with customs and other agencies for food regulatory matters which would ultimately facilitate investment and trade. All relevant ministries/ departments and other agencies would deliberate on coordination in standards-setting and quality benchmarking; coordination in regulatory compliance and inspections to reduce regulatory burden on food businesses; coordination in food testing to ensure credibility including issues relating to recognition of labs outside India; and resolve differences among agencies; take up joint initiatives in the above areas for further facilitation of investment and trade.
- FSSAI has launched the Food Regulatory Portal which will act as a single interface for food businesses to cater to both domestic operations and food imports. Further, strengthening government’s vision for ease of doing business in India, the FSSAI has launched “One Nation One Food Law” initiatives for all state-level food authorities. The “One Nation One Food Law” would ensure consistency and predictability of business environment and enable state food authority to standardize their method of testing, surveillance, and implementation of food safety regulation across the country through the help of the Food Regulatory Portal.
Nevertheless, FSSAI continues to be committed to raising the bar for food safety and hygiene in the country so that citizens can trust the food they get in the marketplace.
The CAG report states that the FSSAI has failed to identify areas in which standards are to be formulated or revised within specified time frames and the manner of selection of food products for the formulation of standards. For some categories the FSSAI has
- entrusted the task of suggesting a revision of standards to representatives of the Food Business Operators (FBO), whose opinions cannot be considered unbiased
- notified regulations and standards without considering the comments of stakeholders
- in the absence of policy guidelines and Standard Operating Procedures (SOP), Food Authority took between one year and three years to notify amendments
- continues to issue directions and notified regulations without the requisite approval of Food Authority and the Ministry as directed by the Supreme Court
FSSAI Response: FSSAI has notified nearly 9000 provisions for use of around 400 food additives in various food categories, several of which address the majority of issues related to product approval after the discontinuation of the product approval system. These include interalia, Regulations on Health Supplements and Nutraceuticals, Approval for Non-Specified Food and Food Ingredients Regulations and Import Regulations.
Majority of Directions issued under section 16(5) of the Act have been brought into the fold of regulations. Such directions are normally issued to expedite the notification of regulations on areas that have been specified in the Act but are yet uncovered. FSSAI has notified 4 principal regulations; 7 new regulations which are at various stages of finalization; and 59 amendments to various regulations since 2015.
FSSAI has put in place a robust system comprising of 17 Scientific Panels and a Scientific Committee for review and establishment of science-based standards. In order to address concerns of food businesses and get structured inputs on a formulation of standards, Standards Review Groups have been set up with members of Industry Associations. This is only an input, which is then considered by Scientific Panels and Scientific Committee and the Authority. Structured inputs are also taken through consumer groups and organizations in setting standards.
The system of Product Approvals was suspended on the directions of the Supreme Court on the ground that it was carried out on the strength of advisories by FSSAI and not under regulations. It needs to be clarified that fresh Product Approvals were suspended immediately on the receipt of orders of Hon’ble Supreme Court. In case of product approvals already granted, a risk assessment had been duly carried out as per usual practice, and since the orders of Hon’ble Court were based on procedural rather than safety issues, no action was required to be taken on these cases. Further, it must be noted that provisional PNOCs on product approval was given for one year has all lapsed. Therefore, there is no need to withdraw such product approvals. Now, necessary regulations have been framed for Product Approvals not specifically covered under existing regulations.
CAG on Unsafe Foods
CAG report goes on to say that there is a possibility that unsafe/declared unsafe food articles continue to be manufactured due to the failure of the Authority to monitor and cancel licenses issued under the product approval system declared unlawful by the Supreme Court. Neither FSSAI nor the state food authorities have documented policies and procedures on risk-based inspections, and the FSSAI does not have any database on the food business. FSSAI has failed to ensure that the Customs authorities follow up the Non-Conformance Reports issued by the FSSAI, and take appropriate action to ensure that unsafe foods do not enter the country.
FSSAI Response FSSAI assures citizens that they can trust the food they get. FSSAI is confident that the country’s food safety ecosystem is well on the way to becoming more robust and globally benchmarked in the years to come.
CAG on Licensing, Registration, Inspection, and Sampling
- FSSAI and state food safety authorities did not conduct surveys for enforcement and administration of the Act and of the FBOs under their jurisdiction, though required to do so under the Act.
- Licenses were issued on the basis of incomplete documents in more than 50 percent of cases, test checked in Audit.
FSSAI Response Several state food authorities have conducted surveys of food business activities under their jurisdiction and some states have not been able to do so due to acute shortage of manpower. In such cases, the limited staff is optimally utilized in effective enforcement and putting pressure on businesses to adhere to food safety and to obtain licenses and registrations. FSSAI conducts annual, periodical and geographical area based surveillance activities for effective implementation of the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 and Rules and Regulations made thereunder. During the current year, Milk Survey is being undertaken.
In the area of Licensing, FSSAI is simplifying processes for licensing and registrations by rationalizing and reducing the documents that are required to be submitted. The focus is to ensure more effective enforcement and administration of the FSS Act.
FSSAI has developed mechanisms for risk-based inspections and shared the same with States. However, several states do not have adequate manpower to conduct as many inspections as they should, for want of manpower
CAG on Analysis of Food and Prosecution
Out of the 72 State food laboratories to which FSSAI and state food safety authorities sent food samples for testing 65 do not possess National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories (NABL) accreditation. Consequently, the quality of testing by these laboratories cannot be assured. Though the Act stipulates gazette notification of impaneled food laboratories but between September 2011 and March 2014 the FSSAI impaneled food laboratories through office orders. FSSAI also has no data on whether all the notified impaneled food laboratories have qualified food analysts. Audit test check found that 15 out of the 16 test checked food laboratories did not have qualified food analysts. Shortage of qualified manpower and functional food testing equipment in state food laboratories and referral laboratories resulted in deficient testing of food samples. There were significant delays in the finalization of cases by Adjudicating Officers. Further, a significant portion of the penalty imposed remained uncollected.
FSSAI Response: Accepting the reality, FSSAI pointed out that it has been working over the past couple of years to ensure that the state food laboratories and referral laboratories are fully equipped and functional. The central government is making an investment of Rs.480 crore for strengthening of the state food laboratories and referral laboratories.
Further, handholding support is being given to states to support them in getting NABL accreditation. 23 labs across 22 states /UTs are being funded for upgradation which will lead to NABL accreditation eventually, and over 140 lab staff have been trained in NABL accreditation processes. Overall 45 labs across States/ UTs would be supported. The number of notified private labs has increased from 82 to 152 as of now. It is proposed to provide for 62 mobile food testing laboratories across all States/ UTs. As of now, 19 mobile food testing labs have already been made available to States/ UTs.
For training and capacity building of lab staff, over 24 training programs have been conducted in this year alone, some of which were with international experts to bring in best global practices. 64 Master Trainers have been created in a cascade approach, who in turn would train hundreds of more lab personnel, and 300 persons have been trained in Good Food Lab Practices in just one year.
To increase the pool of food analysts in the country, in an intensive drive, 3 sets of exams have been conducted in the past year and 204 Food Analysts have been notified out of a pool of thousands of applicants; the 4th exam is being conducted in January 2018 to further enhance this pool. A policy for selecting and training Junior Analysts through a Fellowship program is also on the anvil in partnership with NIFTEM
INFoLNET is a holistic lab network and management system where information is available from all labs in a central database; samples can be tracked and information on testing and technical strengths of labs are available. As of now 170 out of 242 laboratories have been registered on Infonet.
CAG on Human Resources
- Failure of the Ministry and the FSSAI to frame the recruitment regulations even after a decade of the enactment of the Act resulted in acute shortages of regular staff at various level.
- Acute shortage of licensing and enforcement officers (Designated Officers and Food Safety Officers) in the states severely affected food safety measures in the states.
FSSAI Response: FSSAI has finalized the Recruitment Regulations and asked for creations of about 600 new posts to strengthen FSSAI set up across the country. About 200 these posts are for essential functions of food safety, inspection, and enforcement that were not considered at the initial creation of posts. These functions were also identified essential during performance audit by C&AG. 48 posts proposed are for IT Division, a function earlier outsourced and now being carried out internally. About 40 posts are for social and behavioral change, training and capacity building that require special skill in media, communication, curriculum development, pedagogy and consumer outreach.