Food safety concerns deserve the utmost attention of the authorities as the issue concerns the health of the people. However, in our state, this issue deserves no attention and resources that are needed urgently.
The abysmally poor food testing mechanism in Kashmir is allowing consumption of dangerous eatables by people, with officials failing to address the problem that is assuming alarming proportions.
Though we have two Food Testing Laboratories in the state, however, these two can be termed as good for nothing. The labs have an archaic equipment and archaic methods are put into practice to test samples of foods sent by the field staff.
An example of this callousness can be cited from the infamous ‘Maggi’ noodle case. The entire FTL’s spread across India warned people not to consume the Nestle product as it contained a high level of Mono-Sodium Glutamate (MSG), which made it highly dangerous for consumption.
But the FTL in Srinagar gave a clean chit to Maggi Noodles last year and announced that they are fit for consumption.
What is alarming that how can a lab declare a product fit for human use when all the topmost labs declared it hazardous for health. The Srinagar lab given the equipment it has cannot even detect microbial growth in food samples, but it took lead in announcing ‘Maggi’ noodles as safe.
If one peeps deep into the functioning of these two labs, gross irregularities surface in the operations of the FTL’s. The Laboratory premises are littered with bottles of packaged water— lifted by the field staff for testing—but no testing has been conducted.
Worse enough, the government is not concerned to bring some changes in these two institutions. The government is as of now taking no steps to see that a Food Safety Commissioner is appointed so that the entire food safety department has someone who will shoulder the responsibility of ensuring that the people of the state are not fed contaminated foods.
It is ironic that on the one hand the Government pledges resources to the improvement of health facilities and on the other hand it is not willing to ensure safety of food that is meant for the consumption of the people.
Actually, a case has been brought before the High Court questioning why the Food Safety Commissioner is not appointed. The Commission has other vacancies also to make up its manpower, but the court’s observation is that first the Commissioner should be appointed and other appointments will follow.
One wonders that how is the government letting one such crucial department to be headless. The department as of now has an uphill task of getting the two FSL’s accredited by the National Accreditation Board of Laboratories (NABL) Government of India.
This will ensure that the lifted samples can be examined here in the state and the process of referring the samples to referral laboratories outside the state can be stopped once and for all.
Besides, the two food testing laboratories one each in Jammu and Srinagar are lacking adequate manpower as well as equipment. Consequently accreditation of these laboratories cannot be possible unless these are brought up to the established standards in all respects.
But ensuring this to happen the government and particularly the Health Department have to show some seriousness about maintaining high standard of food which the people of the State are supposed to consume.