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Kerala High Court directs state govt to ensure food items meet safety norms

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The Kerala High Court has directed the State government and the Commissioner of Food Safety to ensure food manufacturers and other stakeholders within the State are supplying safe food to the public, by conducting periodical and surprise inspections in a systematic manner and in terms of the action plan proposed in the affidavit filed before the High Court.

The Division Bench of Chief Justice S. Manikumar and Justice Shaji P. Chaly disposed of a Suo Motu Public Interest Litigation (PIL) registered by the High Court based on the news of the death of a young child Devanandha, and 57 other persons taken ill by food poisoning.

When the matter came up on 07.06.2022, the State Government and the Commissioner of Food Safety, Thiruvananthapuram, were directed to file an affidavit with respect to the course of action to be taken periodically and also monitoring of, or action to be taken against the violators of the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, the Regulations and the rules thereto; and the Government Orders issued from time to time. Accordingly, an affidavit dated 16.06.2022 is filed by the Principal Secretary to Government, Health and Family Welfare Department, Thiruvananthapuram incorporating the action plan for enforcement activities, is provided which we intend to record for convenience and brevity.

It is stated in the affidavit that in the wake of a fatal incident of food poisoning which led to the alleged death of a minor, the Food Safety Department has intensified the enforcement activities and inspections are being conducted based on the complaint regarding the adulterated fish and jaggery. It is further submitted that to check the food borne and water borne diseases, awareness along with the enforcement activities are being carried out by the Department as per the special direction from the Government. That apart, it is stated that as per the direction from the Minister of Health, Women and Child Development on the basis of large number of complaints regarding the reuse of cooking oil, special squads are being constituted throughout the State to spread the idea of Repurpose Used Cooking Oil (RUCO), a Food Safety Standard Authority of India initiative to check the reuse of cooking oil and to invoke the provisions of the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006. That apart, it is submitted that as per the scheme of the Act 2006, food safety is ensured through enforcement activities, information, education and communication activities and through awareness to the public.

Therefore, it is submitted that equal importance to all three activities is given by the Department of Food Safety. That apart, it is submitted that the Food Safety Authority under the Act 2006 is obligated with various responsibilities and the State Government and its officials are making all efforts to ensure that adulteration in food is eliminated so as to protect the interests of the larger public from being victims of adulterated food. That apart, it is pointed out that a State Level Advisory Committee and 14 District Level Advisory Committees on Safe Food and Healthy Diets have been reconstituted and are functioning in the State of Kerala as per Government Order dated 20.05.2019 issued by the Home and Family Welfare Department.

The sum and substance of the contention is that the State Level as well as the District Level Advisory Committees are directed to monitor occurrence of food borne diseases and device systematic response to such occurrence and other food safety related issues. Anyhow, it is submitted that Food Safety Department is working at its maximum potential to ensure safe and wholesome food to the public at large and are taking earnest efforts to prevent and abate such unfortunate events, as is reported from Kasaragod which had resulted in the initiation of suo motu writ petition. In view of the action plan incorporated in the affidavit, the Court  intends to dispose of the PIL.

It is  observed by the Court that whatever that be, the State and the Commissioner of Food Safety shall bear in mind the purpose for which the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 was brought into force. In 1998 the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Pesticide Residues in its report in 2004 emphasised the need to converge all present food laws and to have a single regulatory body; the Standing Committee of Parliament on Agriculture in its 12th Report submitted in April, 2005 desired that the much needed legislation on Integrated Food Law should be expedited; accordingly, the Law Commission of India was asked to make a comprehensive review of Food Laws of various developing and developed countries and other relevant international agreements and instruments on the subject and it was recommended by the Law Commission that the new Food Law be seen in the overall perspective of promoting nascent food processing industry given its incomes, employment and export potential.

 It was further suggested that all acts and other orders relating to food be subsumed within the proposed Integrated Food Law as the international trend is towards modernisation and convergence of regulations of Food Standards with the elimination of multi-level and multi-departmental control. It was after making extensive deliberations, the proposed Integrated Food Law was approved with certain modifications and the Food Safety and Standards Bill was introduced in the Parliament and later the Act was promulgated. Therefore, it is clear that the State and its officials are duty bound to implement the provisions of the Act 2006, its Regulations and the Rules in letter and spirit to eliminate the possibility of any contaminated food being served to the public by the food manufacturers and other stakeholders.

“Anyhow, there will be a direction to the respondents to file a report before this court as to the developments that have taken place consequent to the action plan proposed and the action initiated for conducting periodical inspection as is contemplated under the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, the Regulation and the Rules thereto and the circulars issued by the Government, within two months from the date of receipt of a copy of this judgment,” the Court further directed.

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