As more and more states test samples of Maggi noodles to find out whether it has high lead content or mono-sodium glutamate or MSG, a taste enhancer, questions are being raised about how packaged food items are given license in India and what role does the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) - the nodal agency which gives such approvals - plays in it.
There are specific guidelines and rules in place for all products on the basis of which they get their approvals from FSSAI. But to find out if the products in the market meet the benchmarks, they need to be randomly tested, an exercise that falls on state governments.
The details of ingredients and composition as given by the manufacturers are taken as true while giving approvals. The onus for adhering to those is also on the companies that make the product. There may be some random tests to check these and if they fail, they are open to prosecution. In a process that's now online, the FSSAI also needs proof like shelf-life stability data of the product before getting its approval. The body also has an internal scientific committee, which can also refer a particular approval to a larger panel of scientific experts in some cases.
"There is a larger food safety issue here. Our laws on labelling need more improvement. As of today, the Indian safety authority does not have a law on nutritional fact labelling. The consumer should know what he/she is buying and what kind of ingredients are there and what their nutritional value is. The issue is more to do with implementation and monitoring at the state level," explains Amit Khurana, the Program Manager (food safety and toxins) from the Centre for Science and Environment.
In the first five months of this year alone, FSSAI has rejected over 200 products. In 2013-14, it launched cases in over 10,000 instances where there was a violation of the food safety law. It managed to get over 3,000 convictions. Punishment under this law ranges from a fine and/or jail. There is also the possibility of recalling a product till it meets the standards.