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Across states, India’s food safety labs are ill-equipped and understaffed

With the spotlight on packaged foods’ failure to clear safety tests, The Indian Express samples 11 states and finds out how ill-equipped and understaffed their labs are.

By: Express News Service | Updated: June 17, 2015 8:58:33 am
 food safety, food regulators, maggi ban, food safety test, food adulteration, government food labs, food labs, food test laboratories, FDA, indian express news, india news, nation news The Indian Express looked at the infrastructure in 11 states, where less than 1,000 food safety officers are serving against twice as many sanctioned posts, and where most labs lack accreditation.

For a processed food market estimated at Rs 7.34 lakh crore by the Annual Survey of Industries, 72 state labs and 68 private ones with National Accrediation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories (NABL) accreditation are conducting tests in India’s 640 districts to check for adulteration and toxins.

The Indian Express looked at the infrastructure in 11 states, where less than 1,000 food safety officers are serving against twice as many sanctioned posts, and where most labs lack accreditation, mobile testing facilities and facilities to carry out specialised tests such as microbiology.

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6 labs, 37 FS officers
At one food safety officer per 24 lakh population, it has the biggest mismatch among the 11 states. This is in a state with three private and two government food labs certified for food testing by NABL for a dozen states – Odisha, Bihar, Jharkhand, A&N Islands, the Northeast and Sikkim, besides Bengal. Across these labs are only two food analysts.

Of the 37 food safety officers, 23 are under the Kolkata Municipal Corporation which has its own, non-accredited lab. Each of the other 14 officers caters to a district and some have charge of two districts. During the Maggi checks, the KMC’s team sent samples to accredited labs, private and government. The government lab did not have the infrastructure to determine the lead content. Recently, 210 technical posts have been sanctioned.

2 labs, 11 FS officers
With a population of 2.54 crore, it has 11 food safety officers while the chief medical officers of the 21 districts double up as designated officers. There are two laboratories, in Chandigarh and Karnal, neither accredited with NABL. The Chandigarh lab has a strength of 40 against a sanctioned 68, while Karnal is making do with 10 for five districts. The state has three food analysts and no mobile lab. Officials say 10-12 per cent of the samples collected fail tests.

1 lab; 26 FS officers
The one food safety lab, in Bhubaneswar, is not NABL-accredited. Headless for more than a decade, it had a deputy director appointed last year. The first commissioner was appointed last September; the current one is the second. Odisha has two analytical chemists and five assistants, besides 26 food safety officers, 17 of them appointed last year; the immediate target is one for each of the 57 subdivisions..

Among the 26, two are under departmental suspension. All 37 designated officers hold dual charge, 30 of them as additional district medical officers-public health. No FSO has a dedicated vehicle. “Badly understaffed, the lab can hardly adhere to the new deadline for sending results in 14 days,” says commissioner Babaji Das. “We are pursuing a request for more manpower and a higher budget.” The budget for the last two years has been a total Rs 1.27 crore, up from an earlier Rs 2 lakh range.

Some 6,000 samples were collected last year. The last five years have seen1,100 tests with prosecution proposed in six cases.

10 labs (1 referral), 67 FS officers
The 67 food safety officers are a third of the sanctioned 210. Of 35 designated officers, 15 hold dual charges. The state has 10 government labs, five accredited, and one serving as a referral lab. The 10 labs have five analysts. In 2013-14, the labs analysed 3,881 samples and found 210 short of the standards. Of 110 cases lodged, 90 led to penalties but none culminated in a conviction.

6 labs, 229 FS officers
The state has less than a third of its sanctioned strength of 662 FSOs. The last appointments were in 1998; 430 more were selected this year but a court case has held up their appointment. In six labs, none accredited, are 120 food analysts. A government lab tested Maggi samples. In 2014-15, the labs tested 9,605 samples, of which over 4,000 failed at various levels, while 609 prosecutions were sanctioned. The food safety department’s budget is Rs 55 crore this year.

1 lab, 40 FS officers
With only the State Public Health Laboratory in Guwahati, which is not NABL-accredited, Assam often sends samples to Kolkata. The State PHL, which has microbiology facilities, also caters to Meghalaya, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh. The head of the lab is a food analyst, who also has a deputy, while seven of 17 assistant food analyst posts are filled. Assam has 40 food safety officers, 14 of them senior FSOs, and five designated officers of whom three have other charges too. The state’s 27 additional district magistrates also serve as adjudicating officers, but most have other charges. In 2014, the SHPL tested 7,000 samples and officials say 20 per cent of these failed the tests. In 2013-14, 26 cases were registered but there have been no convictions or penalties. Several posts are vacant, including 10 of 17 assistant food analysts, and 10 of 21 assistant chemists. The state has notified five posts of assistant food analysts while the other AFA posts will be filled up through promotions.

14 labs, 188 FS officers
Equipped with four mobile laboratories, Maharashtra is short by a third of its sanctioned strength of 265 food safety officers. Some 20 analysts work with the labs. Only 40 of 62 designated officer posts are filled. Dr Uday Vanjari, joint commissioner (food), says the FDA has the technology for testing various products, “but is short-staffed. No new recruitment has taken place for a long time despite several requests.” The FDA has a budget of Rs 85 core this year.

Of 14 government labs, two are NABL-accredited and Maggi tests were done at the State PHL, Pune, and Food Testing Laboratory, Bandra. In 2014, food safety authorities tested 6,985 samples (of which 1,162 failed) and took up 869 cases for prosecution while 1,426 went into adjudication.

1 lab, 45 FS officers
Punjab’s only lab is in Chandigarh, accredited to NABL, with 13 food and 6 drug analysts. There are 45 food safety officers, 27 of them appointed after the FSSAI was set up, besides 22 designated officers. In Chandigarh, only two of seven sanctioned posts of FSO are filled. The state hasn’t even a separate budget for food safety, and the department has only two vehicles allotted.

3 labs, 185 FS officers
The state Food & Drug Control Administration has a lab each in Vadodara, Bhuj and Rajkot, the first two NABL-accredited. The state has 158 food safety officers against a sanctioned 208, besides 27 SFOs against 32, and 27 designated officers, FDCA commissioner H G Koshia said. “There are no sanctioned posts for food analysts; we notify officers as food analysts.” Seven such officers have ben notified. The department has two mobile vans and a current budget of Rs 56.77 crore. In 2013-14, FDCA tested 22,600 samples, of which 6.2 per cent failed. Since 2011, fines of Rs 1.5 crore have been imposed.

5 labs, 122 FS officers
The three government labs are not accredited but a private one in Kochi and one in Kerala Agriculture University are. The food safety department has 122 food safety officers, 14 designated officers and three mobile squads. Scores of food adulteration cases have been adjudicated, with penalties imposed, but prosecution is still under way as sample collection started only 1½ years ago.

6 labs, 500 FS officers
The state has six labs with microbiology facilities, no mobile labs, and claims to have the highest number of food safety officers at 500. Chennai city with a population of 48 lakh has 25 inspectors. On an average, 1,200 samples are being collected annually. In response to queries, the food safety department said figures are being compiled and will be uploaded in a week.

Compiled with inputs from The Indian Express team at various centres

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