Life sentence for food adulteration? India proposes new food safety regulations

As India’s middle class grows, so too does the country’s focus on food safety and related issues. Recently, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) proposed tougher measures for individuals caught adulterating food products: life in prison.

Food adulteration can be summed up like this: food products or ingredients that are in some way misleading to processors and/or consumers. This can mean that food has been modified with another substance, intentionally or unintentionally, or that food has been mislabeled in some way (for example, a beef burger labeled as such actually containing horse meat).

The FSSAI proposal says anyone who “adds an adulterant to food so as to render it injurious for human consumption with an inherent potential to cause his death or is likely to cause grievous hurt, irrespective of the fact whether it causes actual injury or not, shall be punishable for a term which shall not be less than seven years but which may extend to imprisonment for life and also a fine which shall not be less than Rs 10 lakh,” according to Business Today. Rs 10 lakh, or one million rupees, would equal just under $15,000 USD.

The drafted amendment, just one of about 100 that were proposed, would make the country’s Food Safety and Standards (FSS) Act more stringent. Other proposed amendments would increase the punishment for obstructing, impersonating, intimidating, threatening or assaulting a food safety officer and expand the FSS Act to cover exported food products.

The proposals come at a time when food adulteration rates in India are rising, with some cases having caused actual harm to consumers. Most recently, the country has suffered a formalin panic, after nearly 50,000 pounds of fish laced with the carcinogen — which is normally used to preserve dead bodies in morgues — were seized.

Earlier this year, India’s health ministry put out figures saying that almost one in four food samples tested in 2016 and 2017 was found to be adulterated. Some experts have suggested that adulterated food contaminated with, for example, pesticides, could be contributing to a rise in cancer, diabetes and heart, kidney and liver diseases.

A period of public comments for proposals closed on July 2. Authorities say that if the amendments pass, they’ll be able to enforce important food safety provisions more effectively, saving lives and protecting the health of consumers across the country.

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