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Protecting Health Through Food Safety

Context:

Food is a vital part of our lives, and the quality of the food we eat significantly influences the development and management of chronic diseases. Many chronic conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and certain types of cancer, are closely tied to diet and nutrition. Unfortunately, people often overlook the importance of food quality.

Relevance:

GS3- Food Security

Mains Question:

As our global food system evolves, so must our approaches in ensuring food safety. Analyse. (10 Marks, 150 Words).

Significance of Ensuring Food Safety:

  • Ensuring food safety is crucial for maintaining public health, preventing foodborne illnesses, and supporting the economic stability of the food industry.
  • These illnesses result from consuming food or drinks contaminated with harmful microorganisms (bacteria, fungi, parasites) or toxins.
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that approximately 600 million people fall ill from contaminated food each year, leading to 420,000 deaths.
  • These numbers highlight the severe health consequences of unsafe food. Foodborne illnesses can lead to long-term health issues, including kidney failure, chronic arthritis, brain and nerve damage, and death.
  • This year’s World Food Safety Day theme, “Prepare for the Unexpected,” emphasizes the importance of proactive measures in maintaining food safety amid various unforeseen challenges.
  • Given the current scenario, where new pathogens are emerging and toxic additives are being introduced into foods for profit, robust and adaptive food safety measures are more critical than ever.
  • We see a proliferation of street food stalls across the country, often lacking in hygiene and quality.
  • Even the food products we buy from supermarkets do not always guarantee quality, with discrepancies between the label and actual ingredients being common.
  • Furthermore, enforcement agencies infrequently check the quality of food provided by vendors.

Globalisation’s Role in Hampering Food Safety:

  • In the past, each food item had a unique local flavor, available only in specific places and shops. With small-scale production, manufacturers could maintain control over the quality and safety of their products.
  • However, the globalization of the food supply chain has complicated food safety. Food products now travel long distances and go through many intermediaries before reaching consumers.
  • This lengthy supply chain makes it difficult to trace contamination sources and maintain consistent safety standards.

Other Associated Risks:

  • The reliance on technology in food production and safety monitoring also brings risks, such as refrigeration system failures leading to spoilage and contamination spreading quickly in automated processing lines if not detected.
  • Bioterrorism, or the deliberate contamination of food supplies, is a serious potential threat. An example is the Rajneeshee (Osho) cult, which contaminated salad bars in Oregon with Salmonella, sickening 751 people.

Recent Developments:

  • In a recent meeting in New Delhi, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) approved several amendments aimed at simplifying food safety regulations and promoting ease of doing business.
  • FSSAI will issue a draft notification regarding these amendments and will seek comments from stakeholders before finalizing them.

Proposed Amendments in Food Safety and Standard Regulations:

Elimination of Multiple Certifications:

  • The amendments propose abolishing the need for certification from the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) and Agricultural Marketing (AGMARK) for food products.
  • Only FSSAI certification would be mandatory if these changes are implemented.

Facilitation of Ease of Doing Business:

The amendments support the government’s ‘One Nation, One Commodity, One Regulator’ vision, aiming to simplify regulations and administrative processes for businesses in the food sector.

Expansion of Standards:

  • Beyond simplifying the certification process, the proposed amendments include establishing standards for Mead (Honey wine) and Alcoholic Ready-to-Drink (RTD) beverages.
  • Additionally, the amendments introduce quality standards for ‘Haleem,’ a dish made of meat, pulses, grains, and other ingredients, which currently lacks defined quality parameters.

Way Forward:

  • Quality standards should be based on the actual safety of consumables rather than a nation’s status. There is a significant quality gap between food products available in Indian markets and those overseas.
  • Harmonizing global standards can help address disparities in food safety practices across countries.
  • Collaboration between agencies like WHO and FAO is essential for developing strategies to combat foodborne diseases and related health issues.
  • Enforcement agencies should leverage technological advancements such as blockchain for improved food traceability and IoT sensors for real-time monitoring of storage conditions.

Conclusion:

Ensuring food safety requires ongoing innovation and vigilance. As our global food system evolves, so must our approaches to maintaining its safety. Preparing for the unexpected in food safety is not just a reactive step but a proactive commitment to protecting the well-being of all people.


June 2024
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