In a country where the concept of outside food ranges from dishes served in top class restaurants and eatables packed in attractive packages to roadside eateries and the food items packed in informal, unorganized sector, food safety is a complex issue.
But no one can take the shelter of complexities involved in the issue to ignore food safety as it is directly connected with people’s lives and health. Food testing has thus become an issue of prime importance. With many new varieties of health foods, nutritional foods, dietary supplements etc. arriving in the market the complexities have increased and post-globalisation with a sudden spurt in imports of many new food varieties, the issue has assumed one more edge also.
The only solution to overcome all the complexities is ensuring that ultimately only properly checked and certified safe food reaches the people.
In this situation, food testing laboratories are surely going to have an increasingly gigantic task. But this could be looked at as an opportunity to create a new sector. Though presumably there are unestimated large number of labs in unorganised sector, the FSSAI approved and NABL accredited private labs are hardly around 70. An equal number of labs are in public sector. However, the situations of many government labs is reportedly not very good. Many of them cannot conduct all the requisite tests. Thus, there is a vast potential for this business to grow as India will need more labs with rising number of products.
India can be developed as a food testing hub for Asia. After BPO in IT this could be another big opportunity for India.
But, creation of any big sector requires industry friendly policies, trained human resources in adequate numbers and finance. In each of these factors ultimately, the government has to play an important role for development. Though the Ministry of Food Processing has taken some steps, it can develop the vision of making India a food testing hub of Asia and work to fulfil this vision. Making adequate funding available to develop the labs to international standards, to participate in international proficiency programmes, developing trained human resources are some of the important steps government needs to take, besides improving its own labs.
In addition to the packed food manufactured in the organised sector, which is comparatively easier to test and monitor, there are issues with unorganised sector also. How to monitor the safety of food served in large number of roadside ‘dhabas’ and stalls. Anyone coming across these roadside eateries would doubt if Indians really understand the concept of food safety.
But, in a country, where having adequate food each day is a dream for large population, no wonder safety of food they eat takes secondary priority. But that should not be the case now. After all, as a proverb says, better a thousand times careful than once dead. And that is where food labs would play crucial role in the coming days.