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Food safety during the pandemic

  • Posted By
    10Pointer
  • Categories
    Polity & Governance
  • Published
    9th Jun, 2021
  • Context

    On World Food Safety Day, it is important to look at how COVID-19 has highlighted the growing concerns around food safety.

  • Background

    • India has the second largest population in the world after China at 1.37 billion as per the latest UN estimate 2019.
    • With such a huge population to feed, it is all the more important that the country has a strong agriculture base and an adequate supply of food.
    • Though an agriculture economy, India imports a major portion of food items from international markets to meet its domestic consumption.
    • It is important that India maintains a healthy level of food safety for all its imports, especially during Covid-19.
    • Food safety refers to the practices, which prevent food from adulteration, contamination and food-borne illnesses.
  • Analysis

    What is World Food Safety Day?

    • In 2018, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed that every year June 7 would be observed as World Food Safety Day.
    • The World Health Assembly in 2020 further, passed a resolution to strengthen efforts across the world for food safety and controlling food-borne diseases. 
    • Theme: ‘Safe food today for a healthy tomorrow’ is an apt theme for this year’s World Food Safety Day.
      • It stresses on the long-term benefits of production and consumption of safe food for people, planet, and the economy.
  • Why food safety is essential?

    • Food safety is a public health priority. According to the World Health Organisation(WHO), access to sufficient amounts of safe and nutritious food is key to sustain life and promote good health.
    • Food safety strengthens sustainable development by supporting national economies, trade and tourism; and contributes to food and nutrition security. 
    • Unsafe foodleads to 600 million (1 in 10) people falling ill and 420,000 deaths every year—a loss of 33 million healthy life years.
    • It costs US $110 billion annually on medical expenses resulting from the consumption of unsafe food in low- and middle- income countries.

    Regulation of Food in India

    The various Food Regulations in India can be broadly classified into - Licensing and Registration, Packaging  & Labeling,  Food Standards,  Food Additives,  Contaminants & Toxins, Prohibitions and Restrictions, Laboratory sampling and Analysis.

    • The FSSAI (Food Safety and Standards Authority of India) establishes a national standard, but administration (including licensing, prosecutions for non-compliance, etc.) is carried out at the state level.
    • The Eat Right Movement: To improve public health in India and combat negative nutritional trends to fight lifestyle diseases, FSSAI launched 'The Eat Right Movement’ on 10th July, 2018.T
      • The Eat Right India movement is an initiative of the Government of India and the FSSAI to transform the country's food system in order to ensure safe, healthy and sustainable food for all Indians.
      • Goals targeted with Eat Right India Movement are broadly –
        • Make India trans-fat free India by 2022
        • Reduce India’s Salt Consumption, Intake of sugar in the daily diet should be cut down & Consumption of oil should be tracked and reduced
    • In the recent times, some important regulations were finalised such as:
      • FSS (Safe Food and Healthy Diets for School Children) Regulations, 2019 to ensure wholesome food to school children by not allowing food items high in fat, salt and sugar to be sold and advertised within school premises
      • limiting industrial TFA (trans fatty acids) to not more than 3 per cent in all fats and oils by January 2021 and not more than 2 per cent by January 2022
      • notification of Food Safety and Standards (Labelling and Display) Regulations, 2020, prescribing the labelling requirements of pre-packaged foods.
      • A set of amendments have been proposed by FSSAI to revamp Food Safety and Standards (Licensing and Registration of Food Business) Regulations
  • COVID-19’s impact on food security

    • Even though COVID-19is not transmitted through food, it has had a crucial impact on food security and has heightened the focus on food-related safety issues. 
    • However, it has also exposed the vulnerabilities in the food system, impacting both production and supply, from farm to fork.
    • COVID-19 has posed an unprecedented challenge to the food system causing food loss and food wastage.
    • With lockdowns and containment measures causing closure of restaurants, schools, hotels, and shopping places, the demand for food has faced a slump. 
    • Stockpiling, shortage of supply, and price hikes has led to low demand and spoilage of food supply. Crop destruction, locust invasion, and plowing fresh vegetables have led to food loss during the pandemic.
  • How does the world waste its food?

    • Food wasteis an issue of public concern and is critical to achieving target 12.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals—‘halving per capita global food waste at retail and consumer levels by 2030, as well as reducing food losses along the production and supply chains’. 
    • Aboutone-third (1.3 billion tonnes) of food produced globally for human consumption gets wasted every year, enough to feed the 690 million who go hungry.
    • Global food loss and waste has caused a carbon footprintof about 3.3 billion tons of CO2 per year.
    • The pandemic-led disruption of supply chains from transport restrictions, labour shortage, and quarantine measures have led to significant increase in food loss and waste, especially perishables.

    Joint Statement by WTO, FAO and WHO (on food security)

    • The joint statement by the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), and the World Health Organisation to minimize the impact of COVID-19 calls for ‘enhancing food security, food safety, and nutrition and improving the general welfare of people around the world’.
    • Nutrition and food safety guidance have been issued for food businesses, consumers, and food safety authorities to maintain good health.
    • Even with a low risk of getting COVID-19 from fresh or packaged food, following good food safety practices for cleaning, handling, and storage helps reduce the risk.
  • What are the emerging threats to food security?

    • At present, three main threats have been on the rise posing a challenge to food safety and supply chain resilience
      • food fraud
      • false food claims
      • labelling
    • A reportindicates an increased consumption of unsafe foods during the pandemic with high levels of preservatives leading to health issues.

    Food adulteration

    • As per the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), the percentage of food adulterated has increased from 12.8% in 2011-12 to 28% in 2018-19.
    • It is reported that one out of five food is adulterated.
    • Based on the report by Food Sentry, in 2013, India was ranked as the top food violator with 11.1% from among the sample of 3,400 verified food safety instances taken from 117 countries. China followed with 9.9%, Mexico (7.5%), France (5.5%) and the US (5.4%).
    • Further, as per tests conducted by FSSAI, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh account for 90% of the food fraud in India.
    • The most violated food items are seafood, dairy products, meats, spices and grains.
  • How COVID-19 has brought a shift for food practices?

    • COVID-19 has brought in a paradigm shift for safe food practices and the importance of food safety and good hygiene practices for everyone including food industry and consumer.  
    • This crisis brings an opportunity to change our food system in ways that are less susceptible to disruption. 
    • Consumershave become increasingly conscious of food safety and technologies that keep food safe.
  • What measures are required?

    • Adoption of AI and machine learning: The recent advancesin Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology and machine learning can be effective for efficient and safe food supply chains as well as food supply transparency and traceability.
    • Reinforcement of WHO’s key to safe food: WHO’s ‘five keys to safer foods’ needs to be reinforced for all consumers and food handlers.
      • keep clean
      • separate raw and cooked
      • cook thoroughly
      • keep food at safe temperatures
      • use safe water and raw materials
    • Effective policy measures: Governments should look at ways to minimise disruptions in the food supply chain and ensuring safety of people where food is produced, processed, packaged, and sold.

    The Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) has launched a five-calls to action plan—ensure it’s safe; grow it safe; keep it safe; team up for food safety; and know what is safe to reiterate shared responsibility of governments, food producers, business operators, and consumers for ensuring food safety.

  • Conclusion

    Given the current situation, India needs to revise its food safety standards. It can be done by addressing supply chain issues such as-

    • better risk assessment for certain commodities
    • improved detection method
    • the potential for new economically motivated adulteration

    Furthermore, the government agencies should develop a rapid alert system on food-borne hazards and future problems.