Food safety is a shared responsibility. The regulatory framework in India has evolved with the enactment of the Food Safety and Standards Act (FSSA) in 2006. This legislation has brought nine regulations and various orders on food safety, administered by different ministries, under one roof. This has been a vital step towards establishing a holistic approach for setting up a single-window food safety mechanism. Since then, there has been a significant shift towards ensuring food safety and self-compliance rather than merely checking adulteration through a multi-level clearance system.

Setting and maintaining standards and ensuring appropriate Food Safety Management Systems are extremely critical for providing safe and nutritious food. With the establishment of the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) in 2008, the framework for setting robust science-based standards was defined and regulations were formulated through effective consultative processes with all stakeholders under the assistance of Scientific Panels and the Scientific Committee.

The role of the authority has transitioned from being an enforcer to an enabler, acting as a catalyst for transforming the food systems. The focus has shifted towards strengthening the food safety, quality, and regulatory ecosystem across the country, with an emphasis on improving the State Food Safety Index with regard to laboratory infrastructure, surveillance data, compliance, consumer empowerment, training and capacity building.

Targeted initiatives

Additionally, beyond the regular and traditional application of regulatory practices, targeted initiatives to bring about social and behavioural shifts have been encouraged to inculcate a culture of food safety among the citizens of the country. Interventions such as the ‘Eat Right India Movement’ have been guiding and nudging consumers towards healthier and informed choices. The emphasis on healthy food systems aligns with the growing awareness of the importance of nutrition and wellness.

To ensure consistency in global outreach between domestic and international food policy measures and to facilitate an innovation-friendly food trade across the globe, an enormous amount of work has been done over the years on harmonising food regulations with active participation at CODEX. India’s association with the CODEX Alimentarius Commission is a dynamic collaboration that demonstrates the nation’s steadfast commitment to ensuring global food safety standards.

In the current scenario, with emerging food safety concerns, the export and food authorities have taken adequate and timely measures in the interest of public health. These steps have provided mechanisms to ensure practices to deliver safe food and inspired trust among all concerned. These efforts should enable all the stakeholders to put systems on track and will go a long way in creating a cohesive food regulatory environment across borders.

Over the years, progress has been made, however much is still needed to augment collaborative interventions towards building a resilient food safety ecosystem. Inter-ministerial harmonisation of regulations is necessary to strengthen the single-window approach. The other important challenge is producing safe food right from the stage of farming. This means raising awareness among farmers and empowering them to follow good agricultural practices by rewarding quality and safety. This calls for a systems approach, wherein each stage of food production is treated as part of a larger system of inputs, outputs, and processes. This would greatly facilitate identifying and managing potential contamination and tracking the sources of food-borne illnesses.

The writer is Chairman, CII National Council on Agriculture