SCIENCE & TECH/ GOVERNANCE
- GS-3: Science and Technology- developments and their applications and effects in everyday life
- GS-2: Statutory, regulatory and various quasi-judicial bodies.
Transfats and FSSAI
Context: In, 2020, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) reduced the permissible limit of trans fatty acids (TFA) in oils and fats to 3% for 2021 and 2% by 2022, against the earlier cap of 5%.
About new regulation
- The decision was effected by an amendment to the Food Safety and Standards (Prohibition and Restriction on Sales) Regulations.
- The new rules apply to edible refined oils, vanaspati (partially hydrogenated oils), margarine, bakery shortenings, and other cooking media like vegetable fat spreads and mixed fat spreads.
- In 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) had called for a global elimination of industrially produced TFAs by 2023.
Different types of fats/ fatty acids
- All natural fats and oils are a combination of
- Monounsaturated fatty acids
- Polyunsaturated fatty acids
- Saturated fatty acids or trans fatty acids.
- Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated fats are ‘healthy’ fats as apart from being a major source of energy, they help absorb some vitamins and minerals and build cell membranes and the sheaths surrounding nerves. These fats are free-flowing.
About Transfats and their harmful nature
- There are two broad types of trans fats found in foods: naturally-occurring and artificial trans fats.
- Artificial trans fats, which are considered harmful, are created in an industrial process that adds hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils to make them more solid, increase their shelf life, and for use as an adulterant as they are cheap.
- They are present in baked and fried foods as well as adulterated ghee, which becomes solid at room temperature.
- Saturated fats or Trans fats are considered harmful as they clog arteries and result in hypertension, heart attacks, and other cardiovascular issues.
- The WHO estimates that over 5 lakh people with cardiovascular issues die globally every year due to the consumption of industrially produced TFAs. As per FSSAI, about 77,000 deaths take place annually in India due to TFAs.
How did India and other nations start acting on it?
- In 2018, the WHO called for elimination of industrially produced TFAs by 2023, and brought out a step-by step guide called ‘REPLACE’ to help countries frame policies.
- This prompted accelerated action by member states and other stakeholders.
- However, threats posed by non-communicable diseases started gaining attention much earlier in the 1980s, following which Denmark became the first country to ban TFAs in 2003. In the next five years, Chile and Switzerland banned TFAs too.
- During the same period, several U.S. States, such as New York, implemented local bans.
- In its report in 2020, the WHO said that 58 countries had introduced laws that will protect 3.2 billion people from TFAs by the end of 2021.
- But more than 100 countries still needed to take action. Last year, 11 of the 15 countries that account for two-thirds of deaths linked to trans fats still needed to act. These were Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Ecuador, Egypt, India, Iran, Mexico, Nepal, Pakistan, Republic of Korea.
- In India, action against trans fats coincided with the setting up of the FSSAI. Though it came into existence in 2006, civil society organisations say that its functioning picked up by 2011-12.
- It was in 2011 that it imposed a cap of 10% on trans fats in oils and fats in India, which was further revised to 5% in 2015.
- Civil society organisations in India are pushing for a cap of 3% for 2021 and 2% for 2022 to be imposed not just on trans fats in oils and fats, but in “all” foods.
- Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) is an autonomous statutory body established under the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 (FSS Act).
- The Act aims to establish a single reference point for all matters relating to food safety and standards, by moving from multi- level, multi-departmental control to a single line of command.
- FSSAI works under the overall guidance of Ministry of Health & Family Welfare.
- The FSSAI comprises of a Chairperson and twenty two members out of which one – third are to be women.
- The Chairperson of FSSAI is appointed by the Central Government.
- The Food Authority is assisted by Scientific Committees and Panels in setting standards and the Central Advisory Committee in coordinating with enforcement agencies.
- The primary responsibility for enforcement is largely with the State Food Safety Commissioners.
Landmark cases with FSSAI:
- Nestle India Limited Maggi Case: The maggi noodles were reported with excess lead unfit for human consumption and FSSAI prescribed for ban.
- Cadbury India: It was reported that worms was found in Cadbury’s Dairy Milk. The FSSAI declared packaging was not proper or airtight and made it mandatory to change the packaging.
Challenges and Shortcomings of FSSAI
- Large Exemption: The “petty manufacturers, retailers and hawkers” are exempted from FSSAI ambit. These segments greatly contributes to unorganised food sector and due to its low prices, most of the population prefer food consumption from these segments.
- Inadequate infrastructure: Many states don’t have sufficient food testing laboratories. There are only 87 National Accreditation Board for testing and calibration Laboratories (NABL) accredited Labs, where as there are more than 1500 private labs in India.
- Shortage of Human Resources: Shortage of qualified manpower and functional food testing equipment in state food laboratories and referral laboratories resulted in deficient testing of food samples. Also, there is an acute shortage of licensing and enforcement officers in the states which severely affected food safety measures.
- Improper functioning: The body has been only prescriptive in nature and failed to ensure safety, quality and hygiene in food industry. Also, there are no standard practices for food inspection, the process being mostly discretionary. Moreover, the list of FSSAI regulated items is not regularly reviewed.
- Bureaucratic Hindrances: FSSAI is highly underfunded to monitor the widening ambit of food laws. Cumbersome and lengthy approval procedures have delayed the pre-launch approvals for products from the FSSAI for over a year. Differences of opinion between the food regulator and the food processing ministry also handicap the FSSAI functioning.
- Federal Issues: Regulations are made by FSSAI in accordance with international norms & trends, but the challenge lies in implementation which is a State subject.
- Instances of Irregularities: The CAG has found that “licenses were issued on the basis of incomplete documents in more than 50 per cent of cases, checked in Audit”.
The FSSAI will need to pursue local governments to improve surveillance, inspection of food premises, sampling of food products, regular training of officers, upgradation of food labs, etc.,