“Over 90per cent of the food that we eat in India are sold
“Over 90 per cent of the food that we eat in India are sold without being tested,” said Vishwas Jain, the director of CEG Test House and Research Centre Pvt Ltd, one of the three recognised laboratories that are going to carry out fresh tests on the controversial Maggi noodles within six weeks, according to the latest order issued by the Bombay High Court.
Speaking to The Indian Express from his office in Jaipur, Jain pointed out why India had to “go a long way” when it came to food safety.
Jain is yet to get an order copy to conduct the tests. Their final reports, according to the Bombay High Court, will determine the fate of Maggi noodles. Three laboratories were, on August 13, ordered to carry out fresh tests of samples of Maggi noodles and submit their reports within six weeks.
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Besides Jain, The Indian Express also spoke to Punjab Biotechnology Incubator in Mohali. The third, Vimta Labs, Hyderabad, chose not to comment on the issue. All three are accredited by the National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories (NABL).
”The biggest challenge is the paucity of testing facilities. The government labs need flexibility in terms of expenses on equipment. Some equipment have cost me around Rs 2 crore. In case of a breakdown, I have to replace it or get it fixed,” said Jain.
Established in 2013, the CEG lab has a strength of 80 staffers, including analysts. The lab was set up with a 25 per cent grant from the Ministry of Food Processing Industries (MoFPI).
While the MoFPI, in its budgetary plan for 2015-2016, allocated Rs 329 crore for infrastructural schemes like Mega Food Park, Cold Chain, etc, it allocated just Rs 130 crore for modernisation of food processing industries and quality assurance activities.
The rest was allocated to schemes for human resource (Rs 5 crore), strengthening of institutions (Rs 16 crore) and food processing schemes for Union Territories (Rs 7 crore), taking the total budget allocation to Rs 487 crore. But the Maggi controversy has created a lot of awareness, according to Jain. “It is just the beginning. Current labs are not getting samples because of no enforcement. Most of the products in the retail market pass off without quality check,” he said.
“Lead, chromium, arsenic easily permeate into vegetables grown in areas where factories are in the vicinity,” he added.
This, Jain said, was due to the water used for cultivation. “Suppose Mumbai has a lot of factories in the outskirts, heavy metals can percolate into the vegetables grown nearby,” he said.
Dr Ajit Dua, who heads the technical operation of the lab in Mohali, said it was a first when a court had asked them to carry out sampling. “Not much sampling is done here. People do not know what is nutritional labeling,” she said. Dr Dua said consumers had started coming forward only in the past couple of years. Her lab has recently tested khoya, made of thickened milk and desi ghee. While refusing to comment on adulteration in general, she said with growing awareness among consumers, dealers had also become more concerned. “Now they add such adulterants, which are difficult to detect,” said Dr Dua, adding that the scientific community’s battle was always on. The lab, which has been notified by the Punjab government, has been handling such cases for the past decade.