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Is it Unhealthy to Eat out in India?

Is it Unhealthy to Eat out in India?

Tag: GS 2 || Governance & Social Justice || Human Development|| Health

Why in news?

  • A recent report brought out by a trade body representing restaurant-owners says that only 4.67 lakh places for eating out of the total of nearly 25 lakh in the country—including restaurants, eateries, dhabas and kiosks—are licensed by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI).

Impact

  • The trade body was seeking to highlight the fact that a lot of the eating-out joints in the country are in the informal sector—implicit in the focus on formalisation is the fact that the informal players either must be brought into the regulatory net or face closure.
    • Indeed, of the `4.2 lakh crore food service industry, 65% is informal.
  • The failure of FSSAI and state food regulators to regulate informal joints endangers public health; the efforts, therefore, must be towards increased regulatory reach.

Shortcomings

  • Staff crunch: A 2018 parliamentary committee report notes that FSSAI’s staff crunch is severe and the regulator is presently “operating with staff from (the) state apparatus.”
  • Technical staff: The committee held that without permanent technical staff—given food safety is a “specialised job”—the food regulator can’t function at its optimum level.
  • Restructuring: It recommended that FSSAI be restructured from the top—chairman and CEO included—so that the best professionals with domain knowledge people the regulator’s office.
    • Hiring the best human resource for the regulator, however, will not be possible if the FSSAI remains as grossly underfunded as it is at present.
  • Budgetary allocation: The regulator’s budget is a small fraction of that in other countries, where the regulators have much smaller catchments in terms of eateries and consumers.
    • Against the US’s annual budget of $1.5 billion, Canada’s $650 million, the UK’s $106 million, FSSAI was allocated just $20 million against a budgeted outlay of $49 million in FY19.
    • Contrast this with food-borne diseases imposing a $15-billion cost on India annually.

  • Health impacts: Health ministry data shows that food poisoning and acute diarrhoeal disease routinely figure among the most common disease outbreaks, and canteens, other eateries and weddings—where food is cooked in bulk—are mostly to blame.

Way ahead

  • The government must now take a considered view on the parliamentary commitee’s recommendations on staffing and funding of FSSAI, if the food regulator is to function in the interest of public health.
    • States must be part of this, though, the committee believes that, given their resource crunch, food safety can’t be entirely left to them.
  • Infrastructure & manpower: Notwithstanding the states’ capacity, food safety regulation needs to be made more robust with more laboratories and expert manpower at the local level.

Additional info

FSSAI

  • Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) is an autonomous body established under the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Government of India.
  • The FSSAI has been established under the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 which is a consolidating statute related to food safety and regulation in India.
  • FSSAI is responsible for protecting and promoting public health through the regulation and supervision of food safety.
  • The FSSAI is headed by a non-executive Chairperson, appointed by the Central Government, either holding or has held the position of not below the rank of Secretary to the Government of India.
  • The FSSAI has its headquarters at New Delhi. The authority also has –
    • 6 regional offices located in Delhi, Guwahati, Mumbai, Kolkata, Cochin, and Chennai;
    • 14 referral laboratories notified by FSSAI,
    • 72 State/UT laboratories located throughout India and
    • 112 laboratories are NABL accredited private laboratories notified by FSSAI.

Mains question

  • Examine how FSSAI is ensuring that food offered by street vendors and online aggregators meet safety norms.