FSSAI HR and capacity needs to grow

FSSAI HR and capacity

India has taken a new and different step in bringing change in food safety culture. There was demand from the industry and many others for a single unified law for food safety. Even though the Food Safety and Standards Act 2006 (FSSA 2006) completed 10 years last month the Act actually came into effect from August 5, 2011, five years after it was passed, following the setting up of FSSAI which framed the rules and regulations under the Act.

FSSAI needs more HR, feels Industry
Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) is embarked on a new journey for making food safety a culture. It has planned various programmes to spread the culture of food safety wherever food is consumed, from home to schools to canteens to restaurants to roadside ‘thelas’. While spreading culture of food safety in the society is one of FSSAI’s mandates, its other mandate includes varied regulatory steps like set-ting standards, risk assessment, checking and inspection, approvals and enforcement to ensure that only safe food reaches the consumer.
For all its regulatory work, FSSAI requires large contingent of people who are trained in their scientific work and having working legal knowledge within the organisation as well as with the food commissioners’ offices or Food and Drug Administrations (FDA) in all the states. They are involved in visiting the processing and production sites, checking & inspecting, collecting samples if needed. How-ever, the general feeling and experience of stakeholders is that the enforcement agencies like FDAs are operating with far below required capacity of people and also lab-oratories. To ensure effective enforcement of food safety the enforcement structure needs to be strengthened.
FSSAI CEO Pawan Kumar Agarwal, who recently visited US under technical exchange visit programme, told NuFFooDS Spectrum in an interview that in his interaction with USFDA he found that it has 16,000 inspectors and supervisors in addition to enforcement and prosecution staff ensuring food safety in US. It is learnt that FSSAI has only 350 people and all the state governments have to- tally about 3,700 (as per 2013 figures) people working on food safety in the states.
According to Sagar Kurade, President, All India Food Processors Association (AIFPA), there are certain challenges in the path of   enforcement of regulations in food processing industry and one of them is trained and knowledge able  inspectors. “India is a very large country and proper regulations alone will not achieve the goals of law. Since inspection and enforcement is the dependable method to prevent malpractices within food industry, there is need for knowledgeable and trained inspectors. The challenge lies in addressing the specific training needs of food inspectors and laboratory analysts as a high priority. After all, the reputation and integrity of the food control system depends, to a very large extent, on their interpretation, integrity and skills of its food inspectors on ground.”
Echoing the similar sentiments, Sanjay Mariwala, Managing Director, OmniActive, said, “Food inspectors’ and other regulators’ training with a special focus on nutraceutical products, will develop  information around     the industry.   More accredited labs and testing facilities along with standardisation and consistency in sampling policies will help in enforcement.”
In one of his articles published in a newspaper in July 2015, P I Suvrathan, first chairperson of FSSAI, had written, “Staff strength in FSSAI is getting depleted and there is a chronic short-age of people with risk assessment skills who can understand and deal with the complex issues involved in food safety.”
The issue is not only concerning number of people the organisation needs. It is about quality of people. “The qualification of field officers is not appropriate for what is essentially a global standards of law,” said Dr V Pasupathy, food advisor, FHRAI. He said, “Wrong reports, unscientific notices and inappropriate references to standards due to lack of understanding of our unique process is widening the distance between the stakeholders.” He added that sampling and subsequent handling of the process has diluted the vision of FSSA. Disclosures as per 2015 figures on number of officers per state reveal wide disparity in each state.
Expressing similar sentiments, Shri Ram Hariharan, Managing Director, ImpelPro SCM Solutions, said for improving    overall impression and effectiveness of FSS Act,  FSSAI  needs to  address  some grey areas and one of them is ensuring  adequacy  of staff coupled with training facilities. In conclusion, to ensure effective enforcement of food safety the enforcement structure desperately needs to be strengthened in FSSAI as well as in state FDAs. Both, FSSAI and states will have to recruit more people and keep training them on continuous basis. Then only both the responsibilities of FSSAI spreading food safety culture and enforcement will become effective.

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