Thursday , 23 May 2019

FDA Needs A New Avatar

With testing facilities for most common food items unavailable, the state Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) has proven toothless in carrying out its mandate of making food safe for Goans. Though the FDA is supposed to be the main food regulatory body it has confined its activities merely to issuing licences, that too, often without following proper procedure. The present FDA director Jyoti Sardessai, for whom Health Minister Vishwajit Rane has publicly professed preference, seems like a leader leading her team through a tunnel without any headlight. There are examples galore that can be cited for inefficient handling of its mandated job by the FDA. The director has sealed her and everybody else’s mouth in the FDA at the directive of her patrons in high places. So, the media and the public do not get to know anything. The media knows nothing, for instance, about any   FDA checks of food items during festival seasons, so people can be warned about unsafe food and unscruplous traders can be penalised.

The FDA does not have any facilities for flawless checking for toxins in fish, which is a staple in Goan diet. It is almost five months since reports about  presence of formalin in fish imported from other states triggered a public scare. The FDA only made it from bad to worse, by first saying formalin was within permissible limits, then saying there were no permissible limits for formalin. The FDA lost its face after the Malpe Fishermen’s Association of Udupi in Karnataka, from where a large consignment of fish is imported in Goa, recently openly admitted that formalin was used to preserve fish exposing the state FDA further. Will the government act against those officials who gave reports that the fish was free from cancer causing formalin? The inaction or attempts to bury the truth about presence of formalin in fish and not sharing its findings on analysis of various food items would only lead to erosion of whatever confidence that the people have in the department.

The situation were made even worse when the FDA gave licences to fish traders who did not even have a business address. Following an uproar, the licences were revoked in a jiffy. To avoid any further embarrassment, the health department has banned import of fish altogether. Are these crazy ways meant to ensure safe fish to Goans? A health ministry and an FDA that cannot assure safe fish to Goans have no right to exist. The FDA cannot test milk. Though the FDA was provided with a milk testing equipment, it allowed it to remain idle for more than a year. The alleged report of dog meat being served in a restaurant in Candolim exposed the FDA further that it did not have facility to test meat for which animal’s flesh it is.

It is surprising to note that the FDA did not share the findings of random tests of food items during festive seasons this year, unlike in the past. FDA officials claimed that they drew more ‘informal’ samples and less ‘formal’ samples for tests during Ganesh Chaturthi and Diwali but their findings were not shared with media. Normally at least a dozen cases of attempts to sell adulterated food items were booked during the festive seasons after drawing surveillance samples. By not sharing its findings on the food items and action against the errant suppliers or sellers has not the FDA put Goans to health risks?

The FDA needs to be reinvented and revived. It must be given a truly professional leader, more technical officers and all the equipment it needs. The FDA recently raided a restaurant allegedly selling dog meat but found itself ill-equipped to test the sample as regards to source of meat. It has now been revealed that the restaurant management was flouting the FSSAI rules and its licence has been suspended. Had it not been for the reports in media the alleged “illegalities” would have gone unnoticed? Despite knowing the fact that chemicals/prohibited pesticides were being used for preserving food items, like fish, fruits and vegetables the authorities have not thought it fit to equip the department to check the food items. It is time that Health Minister Vishwajit Rane gives the FDA a new avatar. The government should prevent sale of adulterated and chemical-laced food items to keep people safe from health risks. This would help save a lot of money, which it has to spend on free or subsidised health care.