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“FSSAI is creating a regulatory environment for the food sector”

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A convoy of vehicles including several cyclists starts moving from Leh in the Northern corner of Jammu & Kashmir and traverses amidst snow-fall and occasional incidents of firing and stone-pelting to reach the capital Srinagar.

Another similar caravan starts from Trivandrum, comes to Kanyakumari in the extreme South and moves towards Bangalore – the Karnataka capital – amidst hired drummers and at times an elephant accompanying the enthusiastic cyclists.

One such leg is flagged by the Chief Minister of Jharkhand at Ranchi and travels between the most remote stretches of land and among people celebrating the famous Chhath festival.

While the Yatra moving in the North East, passes through difficult terrain, on an occasion hears sound of a bomb blast in some distant place, and rushing forward to reach the next village or the next city. And the convoy that started in Panjim in Goa moves along the villages on the Western Coast of India to reach Mumbai amid great fanfare and festivity.

Six such caravans are currently moving in six different regions of India, mobilizing people as they move, volunteers getting enrolled to cycle a few hundred kilometers, eating and sleeping in the restaurants and hotels on the wayside who volunteer to provide their services. All have one aim and objective: focusing on three key themes i.e. eating safe, eating healthy and eating fortified food.

The ‘Eat Right India’ movement started by FSSAI (Food Safety and Standards Authority of India) is a collective effort of key stakeholders and citizens to ensure that people have access to safe and healthy diets. It is aligned with the Government’s recent focus on public health through its key programs, namely ‘Ayushman Bharat’, ‘Swachh Bharat Mission’, and ‘Poshan Abhiyaan’. These activities are being complimented by Eat Right Melas, Conventions and National Poster Competition, and an Eat Right award.

Tells Pawan Kr. Agarwal – the dynamic CEO at FSSAI who is the man behind this countrywide drive to inculcate the most important messages concerning our health and well-being: “The ‘Eat Right India’ movement is a collective effort of key stakeholders and citizens to ensure that people have access to safe and healthy diets. This movement targets both the demand and supply side i.e. citizens and food businesses, under an overarching supportive policy framework to create an enabling environment.”

The ‘Eat Right India’ movement employs simple, powerful and innovative messages aimed at bringing about behavioural change and initiate capacity building programs to engage and enable the citizens to not only make the right food choices but also demand safe and healthy food. This movement also focuses on nudging the food industry to follow safe food practices, reformulate their food products into healthier ones and actively promoting safe and healthy food choices. The Swasth Bharat Yatra, which involves the relay cycle-athons moving in six regions across the country are part of the overall ‘Eat Right India’ movement that FSSAI has initiated.

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Tells Pawan Agarwal: “This is a huge task because unlike the West where food businesses are mostly in the organized sector, with large food chains and even retail organized through superstores, Indian food sector is still fragmented where large-scale street-vending is common. Unlike in the West, where regulatory approach is around enforcement, here in many cases businesses are not even aware of safety requirements. Awareness building and capacity building therefore become extremely important part of our efforts.

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People’s understanding of food safety concerns is very limited. And they are not demanding safe and healthier food from the businesses. Unless they demand, why should businesses comply! Therefore, ‘Eat Right India’ movement is about creating awareness, tell the people what are the safety concerns, what food is healthy and what food should be avoided or taken in moderation, safe food, issues of food safety, issue of personal hygiene and surrounding hygiene, issues of micro-nutrient deficiencies, deficiencies of vitamins in diet and addressing them through balanced diet or fortified staples of food.”

‘Eat Right India’ though is just one part of the story. Through tireless efforts of Pawan Agarwal during the last two and a half years, FSSAI has been able to shift the paradigm from prevention of food adulteration to food safety and is now leapfrogging in creating a regulatory environment for the food sector in the country. Though food adulteration still remains a hug concern in India and the perception still remains that the conditions have deteriorated, says Agarwal, the truth is that it is not so widely prevalent and is being controlled to a large extent. “Fact of the matter is that things have improved as far as adulteration is concerned. Now the paradigm is on food safety across the value chain. If the food has not been safely processed, contaminants or toxins can come inadvertently, and the food becomes unsafe even when no adulterants are there.”

“In food safety paradigm, we are creating standards and perimeters and bench marking them with global standards,” says the CEO adding that we are rapidly moving towards food safety paradigm where we work as partners of the food industry and not as policing over the food industry. This shift is rapidly happening.

“Overall the big picture is that right from setting standards to enforcement machinery so that it is more objective, fair and transparent, to improving our lab systems, and also building businesses to capacity building and finally awareness building, in case of food businesses and also consumers across the country, action is being taken on all fronts to raise the standards of food safety in our country and bring them at par with world standards,” concludes Pawan Kr. Agarwal. All food related companies are now welcome to invest in India as the regulatory environment is now becoming helpful and considerate, as long as the basic regulations are being met and prescribed food safety concerns taken care of.

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