Safe food?

Safe food? On April 5, 2005 a group of ministers (gom), headed by the Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar, cleared the draft of the Integrated Food Bill. The draft bill will now go to the union law ministry and then to the union cabinet for final approval. The Union ministry of food processing industry (mpfi), the nodal body for the new law, is expected to introduce it in the second half of the session of Parliament which resumes April 18.

Known as The Food Safety and Standards Bill, 2005, it aims to "to bring about a single statute relating to food and to lay down science-based standards for articles of food and regulate their manufacture, import, export, storage, distribution and sale, to ensure availability of safe and wholesome food for human consumption (including other matters relating thereto) and to establish in that behalf Food Safety and Standards Authority of India and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.'

Breakthrough? Terming it a major breakthrough, Subodh Kant Sahai, minister of state, mpfi, said, "The idea is that there will there will be one law governing all processed food issues.' The draft bill when approved will lead to eight existing laws being repealed and will modify about eight others. Regulations likely to be repealed include the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act (pfa)1954; the Fruit Products Order, 1955; the Milk and Milk Products Order, 1992; the Meat Food Products Order, 1973; the Vegetable Oil Products (Control) Order, 1947; the Edible Oils Packaging (Regulation) Order, 1998; the Solvent Extracted Oil, De-oiled Meal and Edible Flour (Control) Order, 1967; and any other orders issued under the Essential Commodities Act, 1955 relating to food.

Originally the bill, open for public comment till February 15, also intended to repeal the Infant Milk Substitutes, Feeding Bottles and Infant Foods (Regulation of Production, Supply and Distribution) Act, 1992. But this raised both official and civil society hackles. Arjun Singh, minister for human resource development, wrote to mpfi against repealing the Act; many organisations also protested. gom finally decided to only amend the Act.

A flaw A crucial flaw is the constitution of the statutory authority to be formed under the bill. Under the pfa , the Central Committee for Food Standards (ccfs) is the designated authority. It is headed by the director general of health services and includes as members the director of Central Food Laboratory, two experts nominated by central government, representatives from relevant ministries, state governments, five people nominated to represent consumer interests, a medical expert nominated by the Indian Council of Medical Research and a representative from the Indian Standards Institution (Bureau of Indian Standards). Overall: all interests are adequately represented, including

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