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CAG raps FSSAI for roping in poor food testing labs

New Delhi: In a major blow to the food regulator, the government auditor Comptroller & Auditor General (CAG) of India has rapped Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) for issuing licences to food business operators on the basis of incomplete documents in more than 50 per cent cases being scrutinized by the apex auditor. The CAG in its report has also raised questions over the quality of testing as 65 out of 72 state labs are not National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories (NABL) accredited.
"Neither FSSAI or the state food authorities have documented policies and procedures on risk-based inspections and the food regulator does not have any database on food business," the CAG said in its report on Performance Audit of Implementation of Food Safety and Standard Act, 2006, which was tabled in both the houses of Parliament on Tuesday. According to the report, the CAG audit found "systemic inefficiencies, delays and deficiencies in the framing of various regulations and standards, amendments to regulations in violation of the Act and the specific direction of the Supreme Court".
"The FSSAI has no data on whether all the notified empanelled food laboratories have qualified food analysts. Audit test check found that 15 out of 16 test checked food laboratories didn't have qualified food analysts," the CAG report stated. A test check by audit of five state licensing authorities and three central licensing authorities found that in 3,119 out of 5,915 test checked cases licensed had been issued to FBOs (food business operators) on the basis of incomplete documents, the report said.
The report said that the possibility of manufacturing and selling of unsafe food items cannot be ruled out as the regulator failed to monitor and cancel licenses issued under the product approval system which was declared unlawful by the Supreme Court.
Commenting on the CAG report, FSSAI CEO Pawan Kumar Agarwal told Millennium Post that there are problems in the state labs and the government is spending Rs 500 crore to strengthen the labs. "The work to improve the conditions of labs has already been started. To better the licensing procedures, we are planning to introduce technology interface for monitoring the product approval system," Agarwal said, adding, "We have 'rectified' the procedural issued raised by the apex auditor and the FSSAI welcomes the suggestions of CAG for systematic improvement."
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