INDIA – A parliamentary panel has asked the health department to take necessary measures to arrest underutilisation of funds by the country’s food safety regulator FSSAI and ensure strengthening of the food testing system in a time-bound manner.

It said the safety and standardisation of food is a “neglected” area in India and the health department, under which the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) falls, needs to focus more on this field.

Emphasising the need for ample provisioning of mobile food testing labs, the committee has also recommended that the results of all food items being tested should be advertised in newspapers and social media to make people aware.

The parliamentary committee on Demands for Grants for 2017-18 for the Department of Health and Family Welfare noted that there has been a “consistent trend” of underutilisation of funds in 2014-15, 2015-16 and 2016-17.

The committee, chaired by Rajya Sabha MP Ram Gopal Yadav, “expects the department to take appropriate measures to arrest shortfall in utilisation of budgetary funds and ensure that the strengthening of food testing systems and laboratories is done in a time-bound manner.”

The FSSAI was established in 2006 and the status of safety, regulation, manufacturing, processing, distribution, sale and import of food items for human consumption shows a “dreary” picture in India, the committee said.

Slow progress of developmental activities and initiatives would hamper the quality of work being rendered in the context of safety and standardisation of food items, it noted.

Since there are numerous domains under the FSSAI, underutilisation of budgeted funds indicates “negligence” in this area and “poor” financial planning on the part of the authorities concerned, the committee said.

It emphasised the need for ample provisioning of mobile food testing labs which, the committee said, would go a long way in ensuring awareness regarding precautionary measures so that diseases spreading through contaminated and sub-standard food are minimised.

It asked the department to set desirable and achievable targets and seek additional funds depending upon the implementation of the scheme at a later stage.

April 2, 2017: ET