food adulteration laws in india

In this article, Saumya Sinha of RGNUL discusses Laws for the prevention of Food Adulteration in India.

The food industry includes manufacturing, packaging, processing, wholesale and distribution of food products. Compromising quality of these products is essentially compromising the health and safety of the populace of the country. Therefore, the quality and standard of food that reaches the public has to be above a certain benchmark. The food adulteration laws basically set this benchmark. Adulteration of food is defined as “the addition or subtraction of any substance to or from food so that the natural composition and quality of food substance is affected”.[1] This results in an inferior quality of the food. This can either be done intentionally for making some kind of profit or it can happen unintentionally due to the negligence of the person handling the food item. In either of the case, the person is held responsible for food adulteration under the laws of the country.

Food adulteration is on a rise in the country as revealed by various statistics.

  • According to the records of health and family welfare ministry from the financial year 2012-13, 20% of our food is either adulterated or substandard.
  • The amount of adulterated food in the market has seen an increase from 8% to 20% from the year 2008-09 to 2012-13.
  • 32% of the packaged food products that we consume are genetically modified.
  • According to a survey conducted by FSSAI on adulteration of milk, nearly 70% of the milk is adulterated with water being the most common adulterant. The surprising result of the survey was that even detergent was found to be one of the adulterants which is a major health hazard.
  • Therefore, a check on food adulteration is very crucial to keep the adulterers within check.

Background

The adulteration of food is a subject in the Concurrent list of the Constitution.[2] Prior to 1954, there were several state laws to regulate the quality of the food. However, there was variance in the provisions of different states and this posed problems in trade between different provinces. The need for a Central legislation was felt. Thus, the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954 was enacted by the Union legislature to tackle the problem of food adulteration which was rampant in the country. This Act was in operation until it was repealed in 2006 by the Food Safety and Standard Act, 2006. Along with it, several orders such as the Milk and Milk Products Order, 1992, the Fruit Products Order, 1955, the Meat Food Products Order, 1973, etc also got repealed by the 2006 Act.

Laws at present

Central Legislation

There were several defects in the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954. Thus, to remove those defects and consolidate the laws relating to food safety and standards, the Parliament enacted the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 (hereafter referred to as ‘FSSA’). This Act repealed all the other laws in force relating to the quality of food. Section 91 of the Act empowers the Central Government to make rules under the Act. Some of these rules enacted by the Government which regulates the standard of food products are:

  • Food Safety and Standards (Licensing and Registration of Food Businesses) Regulation, 2011.
  • Food Safety and Standards (Packaging and Labelling) Regulation, 2011.
  • Food Safety and Standards (Laboratory and Sampling Analysis) Regulation, 2011.
  • Food Safety and Standards (Food Product Standards and Food Additives) Regulation, 2011.

Position under the Indian Penal Code, 1860

Apart from these laws and regulations, there are provisions under the Indian Penal Code too which deal with food adulteration. Chapter XIV of the Code lays down provisions dealing with ‘offences affecting the public health, safety, convenience, decency, and morals’. According to Section 272 and 273, food or drink adulteration or sale of such food or drink is an offence punishable with an imprisonment which may extend to six months or fine or both. However, some states like Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal considered it to be insufficient punishment and made amendments in the provision with respect to punishment in the year 1970. The state amendment has made the offence punishable with imprisonment for life along with the liability of fine.

Provisions under Food Safety and Standard Act, 2006

The Food Safety and Standard Act, 2006 is a comprehensive legislation dealing with various aspects with respect to the regulation of food safety. The provisions under the Act can be divided into various heads.

Establishment of various authorities and their responsibilities

The FSSA establishes various authorities for the effective implementation of the provisions of the Act.

  • Food Safety and Standard Authority of India (FSSAI) is established under Section 4 of the Act. It is the most important authority which supervises and regulates food safety and standards.
    • The Act provides that its head office shall be in Delhi.
    • Moreover, it can also establish offices in any other place.
    • FSSAI is a body corporate having perpetual succession, common seal and the right to own and dispose of property in its own name. Like any other body corporate, it can sue and be sued in its own name.
    • It consists of a chairperson and 22 members selected by a Selection Committee constituted by the Central Government.
    • The Act also provides for the appointment of Chief Executive Officer by the Central Government. He is the legal representative of the Food Authority.
  • The Act provides that the Food Authority shall establish various other authorities.
    • A Central Advisory Committee for ensuring cooperation between the Food Authority and the enforcement agencies.
    • Scientific Panels in order to deliberate on certain matters in consultation with representatives of the concerned industry along with consumer representatives.
    • Scientific Committee to advice the Food Authority on various issues by giving their scientific opinion.
  • The Act empowers the State Government to appoint a Commissioner of Food Safety for the State for effective implementation of the provisions at the State level.
    • The Commissioner of Food Safety is given the authority to appoint a Designated Officer for each district.
    • The Commissioner is also empowered to appoint Food Safety Officers.

The Act does not only lay down the establishment of various authorities but also comprehensively provides for their responsibilities and duties.

Licensing and Registration

Section 31 deals with licensing and registration of food business.

  • It prohibits any person to operate any food business without a license.
    • The license can be obtained by applying to the Designated Officer.
    • The Designated Officer has been empowered by the Act to either grant or reject the license. Such rejection is in the interest of health and safety of the public.
    • However, such rejection is to be made only after allowing the applicant to be heard and the reasons for such rejection has to be recorded.
    • The Act also lays down that if the Designated Officer has neither accepted nor rejected the application, the applicant may start his business on expiry of two months from the making of such application.
    • The Commissioner of Food Safety is given the authority to hear all the appeals against the rejection of license.
  • There are certain exceptions to the above general rule. The Act exempts certain people from the requirement of obtaining a license.
    • A petty manufacturer engaged in manufacturing or selling of food products.
    • A petty retailer, hawker, itinerant vendor or a temporary stall holder or small-scale or cottage or such other industries relating to food business or tiny food business operator.[3]
  • However, they still have to get them registered with the appropriate authority.

General principles of food safety

Section 18 of the FSSA provides for the general principles which are to be followed by the various authorities while implementing the provisions of the Act such as endeavour to achieve an appropriate level of protection of human life and health and the protection of consumers’ interests[4], carrying out risk management, etc.

Further, there are general provisions related to food products contained in Chapter IV of the Act. These include the regulation of the use of additives or processing aid in the food or the presence of contaminants, insecticides or pesticides residues, veterinary drugs residues, etc. in the food products. There are special provisions dealing with packaging and labelling of foods. Moreover, the Act also regulates the food products which can be imported. Unfair trade practices and misleading advertisements are prohibited under the Act.

Analysis of food

The Act gives out the responsibility to the Food Authority to notify food laboratories and research institutions accredited by the National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories or any other accreditation agency[5] for the analysis of food samples. This analysis is to be done by Food Analysts appointed by the Commissioner of Food Safety.

Offences and Penalties

Section 48 lays down the provision of offences. It provides the circumstances where a person shall be liable for rendering any food item injurious by the various means such as adding to it an article or substance or removing certain elements from the food which results in deterioration of its quality. FSSA provides for penalties and punishments for contravening the provisions of the Act.

The Act consists of a comprehensive list of offences in which the penalties shall be imposed.

  • A penalty for selling of food which is not of the quality as per the regulations under the Act. The penalty, in this case, shall not exceed five lakh rupees.
  • A penalty for manufacturing for sale, storing, selling, distributing, importing food of sub-standard quality which may extend to five lakh rupees.
  • A penalty for manufacturing for sale storing, selling, distributing or importing misbranded food products which may extend to three lakh rupees.
  • The Act prohibits misleading or deceptive advertisements and there is a penalty for the same which may extend to ten lakh rupees.
  • A penalty is also prescribed for manufacturing, storing, selling, distributing or importing a food product containing extraneous material and such penalty may extend to one lakh rupees.
  • The Act imposes a penalty on the food business operator or importer who fails to comply with the provisions of the Act which may extend to two lakh rupees.
  • There is a penalty which may extend to one lakh rupees for manufacturing or processing food in unhygienic or unhealthy conditions.
  • The Act also imposes a penalty for the possession of adulterant.
  • Further, the Act also lays down that if no separate penalty is provided and an act is in contravention to the provisions or regulations of the Act, then a penalty shall be imposed which may extend to two lakh rupees.

Apart from penalties, there are punishments too which are laid down in the Act. The term of imprisonment differs according to different categories.

  • Manufacturing for sale or storing or selling or distributing or importing food which is unsafe is punishable under the Act.
  • The Food Safety Officer may seize food products and a person who interferes with such seized items is liable for punishment.
  • There is punishment for providing false or misleading information.
  • Punishment is also laid down for obstructing or impersonating a Food Safety Officer.
  • The Act provides for compulsory obtaining of license with the exception in a few cases and a case of non-compliance is punishable under the Act.
  • There is a provision for punishment in case of subsequent offences under the Act.

Apart from penalty and punishment, the person contravening the provisions of the Act may also be held liable to pay compensation to the victim or the legal representative of the victim if such contravention has led to death or injury.

Adjudication authority

The Act has separate provisions with respect to the adjudication of the matters related to food safety and standards such as compounding of offences, the establishment of Food Safety Appellate Tribunal, etc.

Consumer Protection Bill, 2018

The Consumer Protection Bill, 2018 is a revised version of Consumer Protection Bill, 2015 after the Standing Committee referred several changes in it. The Bill seeks to replace the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 and was introduced in the Lok Sabha in January 2018. The bill contains several new provisions to tackle the new challenges posed by the growth and development in the consumer market. With respect to food adulteration laws, the Bill has added certain provisions such as penalties for misleading advertisement as well as manufacturing and selling of adulterated or spurious goods.

Conclusion

The food adulteration laws have been evolving with the changing needs of the time. Earlier there were different laws for different provinces which were repealed and consolidated by the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954. However, even this Act could not stand the test of time and had to be repealed due to various defects. The Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 and the regulations made under the Act comprehensively deal with the issue. However, it is important for the authorities under the Act to be vigilant so that effective results are achieved.

References

[1] Punishment for Food Adulteration- FSSAI, India Filings, https://www.indiafilings.com/learn/punishment-food-adulteration-fssai/.

[2] INDIA CONST. Schedule VII, List III, Entry 18.

[3] Section 31, Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006.

[4] Section 18, Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006.

[5] Section 43, Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006.

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