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Adulteration unchecked : Photo: gettingEasy.com
Adulteration unchecked : Photo: gettingEasy.com

Why food adulteration is so rampant in India?

[By Narendra Kaushik]

New Delhi: Ompal Singh, a Food Safety Officer (FSO) in Gautam Buddh Nagar District, always has his hands full. Singh has close to 400 permanent and temporary sales outlets under his jurisdiction (Jewar and Sadar Sub-Divisions of the district).

Since Food Safety and Standards Act (FSSA) 2006 makes it mandatory for every FSO in the country to pick up at least one sample from each outlet in a year, Singh has to check more than one outlet (grocery shops, superstores, juice makers, dairies, mobile vendors etc.) in a day for adulteration and cleanliness. His work load is always increasing as adulterators invent new ways of multiplying their profits every day.

Adulterators everywhere

There are grocers who have no scruples in blending khisari ki daal (grown into hilly regions and consumption prohibited under food safety laws) into arhar and gram lentils or black pebbles into other lentils to increase weight.

There are others who polish lentils with mineral oil to add to their salability.

food_adulteration

There are oil mills which may add poisonous argemone and rice bran oil (extracted from rice coating) into edible oils and there are spice makers who may mix dry fodder, orange peel, wood, rice powder and colour into spices.

The latter got confirmed in a recent raid on a spice factory in Ghaziabad, a district which along with Gautam Buddh Nagar has a common Designated Officer (DO) Vineet Kumar. The five FSOs of the two districts report to Kumar.

There are also fruit sellers who may resort to using calcium carbide to ripen their mangoes, bananas etc. There are juice makers who may add artificial colours in pomegranate juice. Occasionally, parts of broom sticks have been found mixed into cumin as well.

apple

During Navratras, Diwali and Holi festivals, Singh’s workload increases multifold as there is a fear that grocers may add pomegranate and water chestnut (Singhara) coating powder into buckwheat (Kuttu) flour and use artificial colours in sweets.

To test for hooch

Soon Singh and FSOs in other districts of the country will have to check adulteration in liquor as well as beer. The plans are afoot to hand over charge of testing desi liquor and distilleries to the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI).

A draft for this purpose, says Singh, has already been prepared in the FSSAI.

Singh is no ‘Singham’

Ompal Singh works under severe constraints – has no assistant to collect, pack, seal and dispatch samples to Lucknow laboratory. He moves around in a hired taxi and operates from a temporary single room tenement in collectorate in Greater Noida.

Currently, Singh is busy in picking up samples of 33 types of noodles, pastas and macaroni notified by the FSSAI to all State Food Safety Commissioners in the aftermath of ban on Maggi instant noodles. Once he is through with this, he will begin the process of checking all packaged foods.

macaroni

Macaroni Sample collected from Greater Noida

The number of such foods could be more than hundred. At the same time, he will have to make sure that traders do not sell 500 products, rejected by the FSSAI in April this year.

ompal singh

ompal singh

Singh faces pressure of a different kind whenever he has to visit rural outlets in Jewar.

Traders there get together to thwart any attempt to pick up samples for testing. They often invoke political influence to scuttle investigations. As a consequence of this, Singh has been transferred 14 times in 15 years of his service.

“One has to be careful at every step. People do indulge in influence peddling,”

he says.

Every time Singh has to go to Jewer he is escorted by a team of police personnel and a representative of Sub Divisional Magistrate (SDM).

Modus operandi

Like his counterparts in other districts, Singh picks up a sample in four parts. While he sends one part for examination along with a memorandum which specifies what he wants to be investigated the sample for two parts are retained in his office for records.

The fourth part is meant for independent testing by Food Business Operator (read trader). In case the latter does not agree with the findings of test in state laboratory he can submit a demand draft of Rs. 1000 and apply to the DO for test of the fourth part of the sample in an independent lab accredited with the government.

On an average, Singh collects 22 samples in a month. His burden may decrease considerably once the state government posts 438 food safety officers who have already been selected.

Since Uttar Pradesh has 75 districts there is a possibility that Ghaziabad and Gautam Buddh Nagar Districts will together get 10 FSOs more which would take their number to 15. Currently, Uttar Pradesh is manned by about 225 FSOs and around three dozen DOs.

Slow and not steady

Under Food Safety & Standards Act 2006, the laboratories are supposed to test a sample and communicate the report to a district FSO within 14 days.

But adherence to law is an exception rather than a norm. In Gautam Buddh Nagar district, 348 samples were sent to Lucknow laboratory between April 1, 2014 and March 31, 2015, out of this only 229 reports have so far been received.

Since Gautam Buddh Nagar district comprises Noida and Greater Noida which are considered Uttar Pradesh’s show windows focus of Ompal Singh is on ensuring cleanliness in restaurants, mobile food joints and juice stores which attract large crowd of students.

Synthetic milk

Move over to Aligarh and Hathras, two rural-dominated districts, and the focus shifts to detecting synthetic milk factories. DO Aligarh and Hathras Chandan Pandey says he has detected and disbanded over two dozen synthetic milk making units in last two years and is running a campaign against the crime.

“In 12 cases we caught the makers of synthetic milk units red handed. We have involved local people into a plan to eradicate the menace,”

Pandey claims.

Synthetic milk, according to Pandey, is prepared by mixing dextrine or molto dextrine powder or skimmed milk powder with refined oil, reetha solution/detergents or postar colour (safedi), liquid glucose and sodium bi carbonate.

While molto dextrine or skimmed milk powder help the criminals meet SNF (solids not fat), refined oil provides the required fat level and detergents are used for making emulsion. Liquid glucose is used for sweetening while sodium bi carbonate decreases acidity.

The end result is there is hardly a difference between real milk and synthetic one except that while the former nourishes, the latter can kill.

Spread all around

To say that adulteration business is confined to Uttar Pradesh or Northern India, will be a huge overstatement. The fact is that no corner of the country is out of the grip of the killing crime.

Consumer Guidance Society of India, one of the largest consumer forums in the country, which is handling Maharashtra State consumer helpline, found in a study last year that 64 per cent of the loose edible oil sold in Mumbai was adulterated.

Earlier Indian Veterinary Research Institute discovered in a survey in 2013 that 28 per cent of the eggs sampled in Bareilly, Izzatnagar (Uttar Pradesh) and Dehradun (Uttarakhand) were contaminated with E.coli.

Legal loopholes

More often than not, the defaulters resort to long-drawn legal process in India to delay prosecution and imposition of penalties. In case ADM (Adjudicating Officer under FSSA 2006) in a district convicts a trader or company for adulteration the latter can challenge his order in Food Safety Appellate Tribunal (District Judge).

In case the latter endorses ADM’s order, they can move High Court. There also have the option of approaching Supreme Court.

Nestle India Limited has challenged the decision of FSSAI on withdrawal and recall nine variants of Maggi noodles in Bombay High Court.

Amway India too has challenged decision of Gautam Buddh Nagar Adjudicating Officer who ordered in March this year that the company made false claims and violated India’s food laws in selling Nutrilite Daily.

Upgrade labs

The assertion of Union Health Minister J P Nadda that there will be no compromise on food safety will hold little meaning unless India upgrades its laboratories to detect antibiotics in honey, chicken, pesticide residue in beverages and other adulterations in milk, edible oils, spices, lentils, packed foods and follows Thailand in ensuring supply of unpolluted, safe water to its street food vendors.

Currently India has around 150 test laboratories. There are also a dozen referral laboratories which come into picture in case the trader questions testing standards in primary laboratories.

To each his own

There should be no surprise if Nestle India contests Indian Food Safety and Standards Authority of India’s claim on presence of lead and MSG in maggi 2-minute noodles. Cadbury did the same in 2003 when the FDA ordered seizure of its dairy milk chocolates on the grounds of infestation.

Even Haldiram, our snack brand, protested when Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of United States of America, discovered pesticides in its products last year. Since then the products have been refused imports over 85 times. Similarly, the products of Britannia have been rejected in America.

The FDA in fact, bans import of food products from various countries including India every year on account of presence of sulfur dioxide and other impurities.

Therefore, there is no need for India to be apologetic about ordering recall of dairy milk chocolates, maggi instant noodles and other packaged food products produced by multinationals.

About Team PB7