New Delhi, Dec 1: Faced with criticism from industry over approval system for food products, the government is mulling a Rs 1,750-crore proposal to strengthen central food regulator FSSAI as well as state bodies.
Addressing a CII conference, Health Secretary Bhanu Pratap Sharma said there is shortage of manpower and skill at both the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) as well as the state food & drug departments.
The government is working on strengthening the FSSAI and state FDAs through capacity building that includes setting up of new testing laboratories and upgrading the existing ones, he said, adding that the focus is also on increasing awareness about the importance of food safety.
"We have formulated a scheme for that (capacity building) and that scheme was for both food and drug. The drug part has been approved by the Cabinet recently in the month of August and there is a similar proposal for the food which is likely to be approved by the competent authority soon enough," Sharma said.
He said the proposal, once approved, would definitely give a strong fillip to the capacity building of the laboratories and other food regulatory set-ups.
According to sources, the Health Ministry has moved a proposal for granting Rs 1,750 crore, which includes about over Rs 800 crore for the FSSAI and the remaining amount for the state food regulators.
The Secretary said there are about 160 labs for testing of food in the country, out of which 72 are in the government sector and 80 odds are private accredited labs. The ministry has evaluated all the government's labs to find out the deficiencies, Sharma said.
Sharma also mentioned that the FSSAI only sets standards for different food products and the implementation is done by the state governments.
The states give licences and they enforce the Act and all the prosecutions, he added. The FSSAI has come into limelight after it imposed the ban on Maggi in June this year, which was later lifted by the Bombay High Court.
In August this year, the Supreme Court junked the FSSAI's advisory that asked manufacturers to get clearance for products even if the ingredients were already approved or deemed safe.
After Maggi ban, industry as well as Food Processing Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal criticised the FSSAI. Badal had said that the FSSAI's decision created "fear psychosis" in the food processing industry.
Food regulator FSSAI, which comes under ambit of Health Ministry, lays down science based standards for articles of food and to regulate their manufacture, storage, distribution, sale and import to ensure availability of safe and wholesome food for human consumption.