Food safety issues have rocked India for decades. The recent case of Nestlé’s Maggi instant noodles once again thrust the question of food safety into India’s national political spotlight. After the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) reported that it found unhealthy levels of lead in the noodles, the Indian government banned Maggi, one of the country’s most popular food products. Nestlé responded initially by destroying more than 37,000 tons of the product to reassure customers. However, tests in six other countries, including Canada, Singapore, the U.K. and the U.S., found the product to be safe for consumption. In a subsequent legal petition, the company argued that India’s testing system is flawed, leading to inaccurate findings. In August last year, the Bombay High Court agreed, calling the Authority’s decision “arbitrary” and “a violation of natural justice,” and overturned the government’s ban.
Regrettably, India’s food safety standards are not at a developed world standard. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration frequently rejects products shipped from India, from food to generic medicines and cosmetics. India’s food safety monitoring system is inconsistent and arbitrary, with bureaucratic failures at the regulatory level. This situation exists as health and safety issues have become a global concern.
This is why the latest announcement by food giant Mars and Tata Trusts, the philanthropic coalition, to work together to advance agriculture development, address malnutrition, and improve food safety in India is a positive one. They have entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), to develop methods and tools to increase crop productivity, farm income, and sustainability of select agriculture commodities. Mars and Tata Trusts also plan to collaborate on reducing a flatoxin contamination in India’s supply chain. Aflatoxin – a naturally occurring, poisonous chemical produced by certain molds – is a critical food safety issue in India.
This MOU is an important step for both these organisations. It will help improve nutrition, food safety, and sustainability in India; it is a strong commitment to improving the quality of life in the country. Together, they will also conduct joint research on nutritional guidelines that can help address anemia and other forms of malnutrition.
Sadly, this year, three million children under the age of five will die worldwide as a result of malnutrition. Malnutrition and under-nutrition are a significant concern in India. Currently, one in every three malnourished children lives in India, while 46 per cent of all children below the age of three are too small for their age and 47 per cent are underweight. Under the MOU, Mars and Tata Trusts intend to work together to explore how best to improve nutrition in India, especially among children.
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