New Delhi: Consumers will now have the power to take adulterators of food products to task as the first time in the history of food inspection in India, buyers have been empowered to take samples, get those tested and lodge complaints for prosecution of accused.

The move forms part of the transition from the old system where eight sets of regulations governed varied food products to a new regime which provides a unified law to regulate the
entire range of food products in the market.

The Food Safety and Standards Act passed by Parliament in 2006 is in operation across India from August 5. The law took time to roll as standards for implementation were being

In its present form the Act will for the first time cover nutraceuticals, the term used to describe food products with medical and health benefits to people.

All nutrition supplements, health and functional foods, which dieticians and fitness trainers routinely administer to people, will also be regulated and their safety mandated.

The law also fixes, unlike in the past, the time limit for prosecutions after a complaint has been lodged with the Food Inspector. Trial has to begin within a year from the date of commission of offence. The provision assumes importance as one lakh food related cases are pending in courts.

Under the Act, stringent provisions of penalty are entailed and violators can be penalised for penalty of a maximum of Rs 10 lakh and/or life imprisonment. Among various violations considered under the law include food contamination, unsafe and sub-standard food, carrying out business without a licence, providing false information, unhygienic manufacturing or processing, mis-branding, violations of standards, misleading advertising, food containing extraneous matter, possessing of adulterants and failure to comply with food safety officer, besides penalty for contravention for which no specific penalty is provided.

With Health Ministry notifying enabling regulations of the law, it is in force in India and will work through the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India which was established in 2008 to develop standards for implementation of the Act.

The 21-member Food Authority will have representatives from the seven ministries of Health, Agriculture, Food Processing, Commerce, Consumer Affairs, Small-scale industry
and Legislative Affairs, besides representatives from the food industry, consumer organisations, food technologists and scientists, farmer organisations, retailer organisations and states.

In the states, the Act will be implemented through food safety commissioners. As many as 22 states have already appointed these commissioners and the rest are in the process.

The new law integrated all eight old food related regulations, namely Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954, Fruit Product Order 1955, Solvent Extracted Oil, De-oiled Meal
and Edible Flour (control) order, 1967, Meat Food Products Order 1973, Edible Oils Packing, 1998, Vegetable Oil Products Order, 1988 and Milk and Milk Product Amendment Regulations 2009.

Its most revolutionary provision is involvement of consumers to fix irresponsible food sellers. "People can take samples and get them tested, and in case they are adulterated,
prosecution can be launched by the Designated Officer, namely food inspectors in districts," said a top FSSAI official.

Designated officer would have to dispose of any complaints within two months from the date of application.

Another important part of the law is that it will emphasise safety of the entire food chain and not that of the final food product alone as the PFA did. Under the FSS Act, those in the business of any kind of food will be called food business operators who will be held responsible for the supply of safe food to consumers.

"Food testing labs in the country will be upgraded to NABL standards and services of private NABL accredited labs for testing food samples will also be taken," said V N Gaur, chief executive officer of FSSAI.

Four food testing laboratories have already been taken over by the FSSAI which was established in 2008 to develop standards under the 2006 law. Two more labs are currently
under acquisition of the Authority.

The Act also envisages to reduce the gap on food testing labs. Work to upgrade 50 of the 72 labs is underway and the Food Authority hopes to upgrade one food lab in each state
within a year.

The FSSAI will also be responsible for laying science based standards for food articles, regulate their manufacture, storage, distribution, sale and import.

It will also frame regulations to lay down standards and guidelines for food items and specify an appropriate system of enforcing various standards besides specifying mechanisms for accreditation of bodies engaged in certification of food safety management system for food businesses.

A major part of the Authority's responsibility would be will collection and analysis of data regarding food consumption, incidence and prevalence of biological risk, residues of contaminants in foods products, identification of emerging risks and introduction of rapid alert system. The data will help implement the unified law.

"The new law puts in place a unified structure for all food safety related matters in the form of FSSAI at the Centre and Commissioners of Food Safety at the state level," said Gaur.

"Other new functionaries defined by the statute are designated officers, the SDMs, at district level, food safety officer at cutting edge level, adjudicating officer, special courts and appellate tribunal for speedy disposal of cases," Gaur explained further.