In a op-ed in the The Economic Times, IFPRI Research Fellow Devesh Roy offers an insightful take on the Maggi case and why "without consumers knowing what safe food is, food safety will remain a half-baked idea."
Roy brings a few examples of public responses to news of unsafe products. For instance:
"Not long ago, the Food Safety Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) tested milk nationwide and found 70% milk adulterated. It happened about the same time that China executed people for adulterating milk with melamine in 2008. The 2006 Food Safety Act had just become operational in 2011 and here was one important food item — for rich and poor, young (most importantly children) and old — found to be a vector of all possible microbes and extraneous particles. India was producing what could well be called the most ‘complete milk’: complete with detergents, edible oils, colours, urea, water, you name it. The media, unsurprisingly, went into a frenzy. It seemed the moment of reckoning. No more unsafe milk! No more unsafe food! Then came the machismo: we are not some feeble, effete society of consumers that ‘mundane’ milk could undo us."
This story is just a drop in the bucket, as it were. Public outcry at the latest food scandal does not automatically translate into changed attitudes and behavior. Lack of credible food safety is a problem, but when the public does not make informed decisions regarding unsafe food there is no motivation for actors along the value chain to improve their practices. Depending on supply side regulation and enforcement alone is not feasible given the lack of physical, human and institutional capital for administering food safety, says Roy. By educating the public about food safety from a young age, there will be a market for certified-safe food acting as an demand-side pull as well. A certification system that not only tells the consumer the benefits of eating safe food but also the risks of consuming unsafe products will be a complementary addition to this system.
"As of now, consumers do not know what is 'safe food' and how and where to get it," he says. "Hence, the government needs to create a credible, commonly accepted and acknowledged system of third-party food certification and educate consumers about it in a mission mode."
For the full op-ed, click here.
BY: Rachel Kohn