The Modernization of Food Safety Laws in India

The Modernization of Food Safety Laws in India

Food safety is crucial to any country’s progress and economic development.

The constitution of India under Article 21, The Right to Life, which is the most important fundamental right of every citizen, guarantees within its purview, the right to healthy food and therefore any food article which is hazardous to public health is a potential danger to the right to life. Article 21 read alongside Article 47 of the Constitution casts a primary duty on the state and its authorities to achieve an appropriate level to protect human life and health.

With rapidly increasing urbanization, population and rising economy, India faces unique challenges in its quest for food safety. In India, as in many other countries in the world, the common use of pesticides, growth hormones, exposure to toxic waste etc., may result in food contamination at farm level. In addition, the usage of additives, contaminants, chemicals, environmental pollutants, adulterants, toxic colorants, or preservatives, etc. may render the food unsafe for human consumption. The quality of the food can be compromised at any stage of food production, from primary production to processing, packaging, and distribution, thus, posing a challenge for the enforcement of food safety regulations.

All of this, compounded by a multiplicity of food laws, standards, and enforcement agencies which are present across the different food sectors, creates confusion in the minds of consumers, traders, manufacturers, and investors. Standards were often rigid and non-responsive to scientific advancements and modernization. Such an ecosystem had a detrimental impact upon the growth of the nascent food processing industry and was not conducive to effective fixation of food standards and their enforcement.

Regulatory Legal Framework

In a view to address the abovementioned issues, a decision was taken by subject group on Food and Agro Industries (appointed by the Prime Minister’s Council on Trade and Industry in 1998), various governmental committees and the law commission of India between the period of 1998 to 2005, to come out with an integrated food law and as a result the “The Food Safety and Standards Bill, 2005” was introduced.

The main objective of the Bill was to bring out a single comprehensive statute relating to food, a systematic and scientific development of Food Processing Industries and a Food Regulatory Authority concerning both the domestic and the export market. These steps were taken to provide a healthy ground for the food processing industry to thrive on, given its income and export potential. The Bill inter alia incorporated the salient provisions of the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act 1954 and was based on international legislation, other instrumentalities and the Codex Alimentaries Commission (which is related to food safety norms).

Accordingly, the Food Safety and Standards Act 2006 (FSS Act) was passed in 2006 and the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) was established under this Act and became functional from January 2009. The commencement of a new regime started from August 2011, and various central Acts relating to food safety were repealed. This legislation marked a paradigm shift from a multi-level to a single line of control with a focus on self-compliance rather than a pure regulatory regime. It also introduced a uniform licensing/registration regime.

The legislation also provides for the regulation of food imported into the country; provision for food recalls; surveillance; envisages a large network of food laboratories; new justice dispensation system for fast-track disposal of cases; provision for graded penalties and consistency between domestic and international food policy measures without reducing safeguards to public health and consumer protection. Lastly, the law emphasizes training and awareness programs regarding food safety for business operators, consumers, and regulators.

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India as a welfare State has the primary responsibility to take a key role in establishing a robust food safety mechanism for the welfare of its citizens. A new regulatory regime, particularly when it makes a significant departure from the previous regime, requires massive capacity building initiatives by the regulator to educate the stakeholders to make enforcement robust. The modernized food safety laws in India are a work in progress which will require regular audits, checks and balances to ensure its implementation. FSSAI should take definite steps to ensure that every eatery including hotels, fast food chains, restaurants and e-commerce food sellers should provide all statutory information concerning packaging and labeling of food items on menus, advertisements and display panels and mandatorily print caloric information on their menus so consumers can make informed choices and healthy eating is promoted.

We at D’Andrea and Partners have a team of experts who are continually monitoring the changes in the Indian laws and regulations. Reach out to us on if you have any questions.