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Watchdog pulls up food standards body

MY BIZ: Watchdog pulls up food standards body for ‘reckless licenses’

The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) has pulled up food regulator FSSAI for recklessly issuing licences to food businesses without complete documents, and questioned it on the quality of testing as 65 out of 72 state labs were not even accredited with the National Board. 

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has also failed to ensure that unsafe foods are not imported into the country, the CAG report states. 

The CAG said its audit found systemic inefficiencies, delays and deficiencies in the framing of various regulations and standards, amendments to regulations in violation of the Act and the specific direction of the Supreme Court. 

The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) has pulled up food regulator FSSAI (photo for representation only)

The CAG also found licenses were issued on the basis of incomplete documents in more than 50 per cent cases test checked in the audit. 

A test check in an audit of five state licensing authorities and three Central licensing authorities found that in 3,119 out of 5,915 test checked cases licenses had been issued to food business operators (FBOs) on the basis of incomplete documents, it pointed out. 

Criticising the regulator over quality of testing, the CAG said: ‘As many as 65 out of the 72 state food laboratories to which FSSAI and state food safety authorities sent food samples for testing do not possess National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories (NABL) accreditation. 

‘Consequently, the quality of testing by these laboratories cannot be assured, the report said, adding that the labs were ill-equipped.’ 

It further said that 15 out of 16 test checked food laboratories did not have qualified food analysts. Shortage of qualified manpower and functional food testing equipment in state food laboratories and referral laboratories resulted in deficient testing of food samples, the CAG report states. 

On imports, the auditor said the FSSAI failed to ensure that the customs authorities follow up the ‘non-conformance reports’ issued by the regulator, and take appropriate action to ensure that unsafe foods do not enter the country. 

FSSAI and state food safety authorities did not conduct surveys for enforcement and administration of the Act and of the FBOs under their jurisdiction as required under this law. 

Neither FSSAI nor the state authorities documented policies and procedures on risk based inspections, the report said, adding that the regulator does not have any database on food business. 

The CAG said that the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and the FSSAI are yet to frame regulations governing various procedures, guidelines and mechanisms as prescribed in this law, which was enacted more than a decade ago. 

The possibility that unsafe food articles continued to be manufactured and sold is not ruled out, due to failure of the Authority to monitor and cancel licenses issued under the product approval system declared unlawful by the Supreme Court, it said. 

In its recommendation, the CAG has asked the FSSAI to review all licences issued under the previous system of product approvals and cancel them and reissue it on the basis of the new guidelines. 

The auditor directed the ministry to ensure accreditation of all state food laboratories, and ensure that these along with other referral laboratories are fully equipped and functional. 

The Ministry/FSSAI may expedite the notification of regulations on areas that have been specified in the Act, but are yet uncovered. 

FSSAI may frame standard operating procedures on the formulation and review of standards, and ensure that these are adhered to, it said.