CAG slams FSSAI over lapses in enforcing food safety

New Delhi, Dec 19 : The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) has come down heavily on the Union Health Ministry and its body FSSAI for not framing regulations governing various procedures, guidelines and mechanisms in line with the provisions of the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006.

As per the top audit body's observations, there is a possibility that unsafe/declared unsafe food articles continued to be manufactured and sold due to the failure of the authorities to monitor and cancel licences.

"Audit observed that even after withdrawal of NOCs (no-Objection Certificates), there was no mechanism to ensure that the licences issued on the basis of the withdrawn NOCs were cancelled," said the report.

The audit body found that licences were issued on the basis of incomplete documents in more than 50 per cent of the cases test-checked in the audit.

"Neither FSSAI (Food Safety and Standards Authority of India) nor the state food authorities have documented policies and procedures on risk-based inspections, and the FSSAI does not have any data base on food business," said the audit report.

According to the CAG, 65 out of the 72 state food laboratories to which FSSAI and state food safety authorities sent food samples for testing do not have the National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories (NABL)'s accreditation, due to which the quality of testing by these laboratories could not be assured.

It observed that between January 2012 and May 2013, the FSSAI issued, without the approval of the ministry, a series of advisories covering the category of proprietary foods, which had been defined as articles of food and for which standards had not been specified.

The CAG has also questioned the continuation of licences issued in terms of flawed NOC procedure.

"Audit observed occasions where the NOCs issued by the product approval divisions had to be withdrawn because the application for product approval for a similar or identical product was denied by the scientific committees/scientific panels," said the audit report, adding that it was, therefore, evident that the FSSAI permitted possibly unsafe foods to be manufactured, distributed, sold or imported in the country.

The CAG observed that though the NOCs were valid only for a maximum period of one year, the FSSAI did not ensure that the licences issued on the basis of these NOCs were accordingly valid for the same period.

"Further, after withdrawal of the NOCs, FSSAI did not ensure that the Central Licence Authorities also cancelled the licences that had been issued on the basis of the now-withdrawn NOCs and also that the food business operators had stopped the manufacture, distribution and sale of such products."

Stating that there was a failure of the ministry and the FSSAI in framing the recruitment regulation even after a decade of the enactment of the act, the CAG observed that there was an acute shortage of licencing and enforcement officers in the states, severely affecting the food safety measures.

Parliament enacted the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 to overcome the difficulties and to consolidate and subsume the existing acts and orders and establish a single-point reference system -- FSSAI.

The body was to lay guidelines, science-based standards and regulate the manufacture, storage, distribution and sale of food products.

The CAG also found matters pertaining to non-refund of product approval fees in the audit report.

"Audit observed that though 1,876 applications for product approval were pending with FSSAI after the Supreme Court judgment, FSSAI has not refunded Rs 4.69 crore to the applicants," the report said.

Among other issues related to the food regulatory, the CAG observed that there were deficiencies in the procedure by food safety authorities in sample handling and failure in monitoring the status of receipts of samples sent for analysis.



Source: IANS