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Food safety in India compromised due to use of antibiotics and pesticides

Contamination of food is a serious problem in India as use of antibiotics compromises food safety while junk food adds to the problem, a green body today said and advocated for a disease surveillance and alert system and better enforcement of food safety act.

Scientific evidence has shown that contamination of food is a serious issue in India as unchecked microbial activity, and the use of pesticides and antibiotics seriously compromise food safety… ‘Consumption of junk food and other chemically-laced food adds to the problem,’ the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) deputy director general Chandra Bhushan said while flagging the nation’s key concerns on World Health Day. Food safety is the theme of World Health Day this year.

 Food safety in India compromised due to use of antibiotics and pesticides

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According to World Health Organization (WHO), over two million people – 1.5 million of them children – die each year in the world due to diarrhoea from contaminated food and water. Out of the two million, nearly 700,000 die in South Asian countries alone. In 2013, about 10 percent of the deaths in India of children below 5 years were due to diarrhoea. ‘There is limited understanding of estimates of disease and deaths from all food-safety related issues. India also does not know the exact burden of all food-borne illnesses,’ said Bhushan. CSE researchers said that pesticide use and management in India is largely unregulated and food contaminated with pesticide residues is freely used by unsuspecting consumers.

‘Pesticides are linked to long-term health effects such as endocrine disruption, birth defects and cancer. Besides raw agriculture produce, pesticides have been found in packaged food products such as soft drinks, bottled water and in human tissues in India,’ CSE said. Observing that the Food Safety and Standards (FSS) Act should be strengthened, CSE noted that an effective monitoring mechanism is the ‘key’ to the success of Indian food safety regulatory framework while limited capacity of enforcement authorities should not be a hindrance and should be augmented. It also called for imposition of financial and legal penalties in order to ensure deterrence.

Advocating for setting up of a national level disease surveillance and public alert system, CSE said it is important to record all acute and long-term food-borne cases and their reasons, specifically other than microbiological such as such as pesticides. ‘Monitoring of antibiotic resistance trends in live animals, retail meat and humans would help tackle the antimicrobial resistance. A public alert system in case of outbreaks, food product recalls, chemical food poisoning would be important going forward,’ it said.It also called for strengthening of food testing laboratory infrastructure and skills as the existing facilities were inadequate, it also urged the government to set limits for chemicals or determinants of unsafe food need.

CSE said that antibiotics for growth promotion and mass disease prevention should be ‘banned’ as done in several European countries while antibiotics critical for human medicine should also be prohibited.CSE said that while microbiological contamination of street food is a concern, its most common replacement is processed and packaged food which is laden with chemical additives many of whose long-term risks are not known.

‘Besides chemical additives, ultra-processed junk foods are known to be high in salt, sugar and fats including trans-fats. Considering their established linkages with non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, obesity and heart disease, it would be more than appropriate to consider these foods as unsafe too,’ CSE said, adding that controlling adulteration is a big challenge.

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Updated Date: Apr 08, 2015 12:27:13 IST