The objects of the Act are to consolidate the law relating to food, establish the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India and to regulate the manufacture, storage, sale and import of food and to ensure the availability of safe food to people of India.
The Act defines ‘food safety’ as the assurance that food is acceptable for human consumption according to its intended use. Some other important definitions are as follows:
Food – The Act basically ensures that any substance, including water, whether processed or not, intended for human consumption. However, it excludes drugs, medicines and narcotics.
Food Additive – A food additive is a substance added to food which affects, or may reasonably be expected to affect, the characteristics of the food to which it is added. However, it does not include substances added to maintain or improve its nutritional qualities.
Hazard – A biological, chemical or physical agent in, or condition of food, with the potential to cause adverse health effects
Ingredient – any substance, including a food additive used in the manufacture or preparation of food and present in the final product, possibly in a modified form
The act also exhaustively defines ‘unsafe food’. Any food article whose nature, substance or quality is affected to make it harmful if consumed whether due to the ingredients, processes, packaging, additives, mis branding, etc., is unsafe food. This definition, though exhaustive, is fairly straightforward. Any food article which, if consumed, would be injurious to the consumer’s health is ‘unsafe food’.
Section 4 of the Act provides for the establishment of the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India. Sections 5-15 provide for the establishment of various committees, terms of office, etc., of the FSSAI. Section 16 lists out the duties and functions of the FSSAI. The FSSAI’s most important function is to specify the standards, and prescribe guidelines, in relation to food articles. According to section 16, the FSSAI is to prescribe guidelines for the use of food additives, pesticides, processing aids, heavy metals, etc. The FSSAI also has to prescribe guidelines and procedures for the accreditation of food safety certification bodies, food testing laboratories, quality control mechanisms for imported food, food sampling and analysis processes, food labelling standards, etc.
The FSSAI is also acts as an advisor to the Central Government and the State Governments on policy matter, framing of rules directly or indirectly related to food safety and nutrition, risk assessment guidelines, crisis management guidelines and systems, assistance in improving co-operation with international organisations, etc.
The FSSAI is also a research body. On of it’s most important duties is to search, collect, collate, analyse and summarise scientific data relating to food consumption and risks related to consumption of various food articles, food contaminants, identification of emerging risks, etc,. It must publish the opinions of it’s Scientific Committee and Panel immediately after they are adopted as well as the results of it’s scientific studies.
Section 18 of the Act prescribes the general principles that guide Governments, the FSSAI and other agencies in the implementation of the Act. The basic principles that any Government, food authority of agency must be guided by are protection of human life and health, appropriate risk management measures, periodic review of policies and measures, keeping the general public informed about food safety and the presumption that if one food article of a batch is not upto standard, then the entire batch is not up to standard. Domestic and international practises, risk assessment studies and open and transparent public consultation at all level are also important guidelines that must be taken into account during policy formulation and rule making.
Chapter IV of the Act (ss19-22) contains general rules regarding food articles. It provides that no food article can contain any food additive or processing aid except as provided by the Act and the Rules made under the Act. This includes contaminants, naturally occurring toxic substances, insecticides and pesticides, veterinary and antibiotic drug residue, etc. Chapter IV also prohibits unauthorised dealing in genetically modified, organic, proprietary and functional food articles. The chapter also prohibits mis leading labelling and advertising of food. Labels must conform to the provisions of the Act and the Rules framed under the Act. Chapter V prohibits importing food articles except as per the Act and the Rules framed under it.
Chapter VI of the Act prescribes the responsibilities of various agencies with regard to food safety. A food business operator has to ensure that the food satisfies the provisions of the Act at all stages of productions, processing, import, distribution, and sale under his control. If a food business operator believes that the food manufactured, processed or distributed is not in compliance with the Act or the Rules made under the Act, he has to initiate procedures to withdraw the food from the market and inform the competent authorities of the same.
The duty to enforce the provisions of the Act lie with the Food Authority and the State Food Safety Authorities. Also, State Governments are to appoint Food Safety Commissioners for the States to implement the standards and other requirements under the Act. Commissioner of Food Safety, in turn, is to appoint Designated Officers who are responsible for food safety in their assigned areas. The Commissioner also appoints Food Safety Officers for who are to responsible for ensuring food safety on a local area level.
The Food Safety and Standards Act makes the failure to comply with the provisions of the Act a criminal offence and it also prescribes punishments for such offences. An officer, not below the rank of an Additional District Magistrate, who is appointed by the State Government, is the designated Adjudicating Officer. He has the authority to enquire into any alleged offence and prescribe punishment if he is satisfied that an offence has been committed. Decisions of Adjudicating Officers may be appealed before the Food Safety Appellate Tribunal which is appointed by the Central Government. The Act specifically excludes the jurisdiction of Civil Courts as regards to offences under this Act.