First the sweet news. After a gap of 6 months, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) finally has a full time Chairman with the appointment of Ashish Bahuguna. Add to this two more healthy news – FSSAI releasing draft standards of Nutraceuticals, Functional Foods, Novel Foods and Health Supplements for comments and suggestions and finalising 12,000 standards for food additives and ingredients to do away with the lengthy process of product approval.
The sour news is that FSSAI in recent times appeared to be at the receiving end due to varied reasons posing challenges for the new Chairman. On the judicial front, in addition to the several ongoing cases in different courts, including the one on product approval in Supreme Court and the recent Maggi wrangle in Bombay high court, a PIL has been filed in the Delhi high court by a former FSSAI director making serious allegations and pointing out shortcomings in the working of the food regulator.
On the administrative front, the gap between FSSAI, which works under the health ministry, and the Ministry of Food Processing Industries (MoFPI) appeared to be widening, as was seen from the criticism of FSSAI by the Minister of Food Processing Industries, Harsimart Kaur Badal. She has openly expressed her dissatisfaction over the way the food regulator is exercising its authority and emphasised the need for streamlining its system since it was hampering innovation, stalling expansion & diversification and stopping new investments.
One may think this confrontation less important, considering that it is very obvious since the two establishments represent not only different but may be even opposite interests. One of the industry and the other of consumers and their safety. But even the FSSAI’s former chairman has also commented adversely over its current functioning in a recent newspaper article. Comments from a person, who was at the helm of affairs in the organisation, cannot be dismissed as a confrontation between two different interests and needs to be considered seriously.
That will be the prime job for the new Chairman. Considering all the criticism and suggestions and striking a fine balance between ensuring safety of consumers and at the same time allowing the industry to flourish. Bahuguna comes to FSSAI with rich administrative experience and particularly from agriculture department which is in a way related to agriculture and also a very short stint with MoFPI.
His experience would help him in sorting out the complex issues and striking that fine balance between the food regulator and the industry. He has many other complex tasks as Chairman that include completing registration and licensing of Food Business Operators (FBOs) which is progressing very slow as one more deadline is over and faster approvals for products & clearing pending cases for which FSSAI has already prepared a plan. It appears that there has been just five per cent hike in the figures of licensing and registration in last six months.
The industry is keenly waiting for some faster steps in different matters. It is for the new Chairman to meet the challenges and ease the process. That is the good news everyone is waiting for.