Protection of Consumers from the adulteration of food

By Shrishti Mishra

Adulteration is a legal term meaning that a food substance fails to meet standards. It usually refers to non-compliance with health and safety standards.

While traditionally, Indian families used to cook food at home with healthy ingredients and knew what went into the meal, in modern times, with rising incomes and affluence, more and more people are moving away to readymade fast foods and eating regularly at restaurants. The food in many of these outlets is cooked with poor quality ingredients to attract and satisfy the palate rather than provide a wholesome nutritional meal. We now have a lot more varieties and the choices are many. Though some of us may not be aware of the fact that the food we consume may be adulterated, 25 to 30 percent of the food items in India are intentionally adulterated.

Food adulteration is the addition or removal of any substances to or from food so that the natural composition and quality are affected. Adulterated food is impure, unsafe and not wholesome. Food can be adulterated intentionally and accidentally. Unintentional adulteration is a result of ignorance or the lack of facilities to maintain food quality. This may be caused by the spillover effect from pesticides and fertilizers. Inappropriate food handling and packaging methods can also result in adulteration.

Why it is done?

Intentional food adulteration is usually done for financial gain. The most common form of intentional adulteration is colour adulteration. Some examples of intentional adulteration are the addition of water to liquid milk, extraneous matter to ground spices, or the removal or substitution of milk solids from the natural product. Natural adulteration occurs due to the presence of certain chemicals, organic compounds, or radicals naturally occurring in foods that are injurious to health and are not added to the foods intentionally or unintentionally. Some of the examples are toxic varieties of pulses, mushrooms, green and other vegetables, fish, and seafood.

Mineral oil may be added to edible oil and fats and can cause cancers. Lead chromate added to turmeric powder and spices can cause anaemia, paralysis, brain damage and abortions. Lead added to water, natural and processed food can lead to lead poisoning. Lead poisoning causes foot drop, insomnia, constipation, anaemia, and mental retardation. Cobalt is added to water and liquors and can cause cardiac damage. Copper, tin and zinc can cause colic, vomiting and diarrhoea. Mercury in mercury fungicide treated grains or mercury-contaminated fish can cause brain damage, paralysis, and death. Non-permitted colour or permitted food colour like metal yellow, beyond the safe limit in coloured food can cause allergies, hyperactivity, liver damage, infertility, anaemia, cancer, and birth defects.

Threat to Consumers:

 One is familiar with the famous saying of one of the past prime ministers of India describing corruption as universal and not confined to India. The same appears to be true with food adulteration also. It is surprising that the fraudsters are always one step ahead of the safety agencies when it comes to detecting adulteration and their techniques are increasingly becoming more and more sophisticated with time. Food frauds literally constitute a high tech industry because of the enormous economic gains inherent in adulteration. Interestingly costlier the food product, more incentive is available for evolving appropriate methods to mimic the original product with cheap alternatives

There are some cases where there can be serious health consequences as illustrated when melamine was added to infant formula and pet food in order to falsify the level of protein content in these products.”

Acts/ Orders which have been repealed:

  1. The Edible Oils Packaging ( Regulation ) Order 1998.
  2. Fruit Products Order (FPO), 1955
  3. Meat Food Products Order (MFPO) DIVISION
  4. Milk and Milk Product Amendment Regulations, 2009
  5. Prevention of Food Adulteration Act,1954
  6. Solvent Extracted Oil, De-oiled Meal and Edible Flour (Control) Order, 1967
  7. Vegetable Oil Product Order, 1980

 Current enactment:

Food Safety and Standard Act, 2006

It was enacted to consolidate the laws relating to food and to establish the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India for laying down science-based standards for articles of food and to regulate their manufacture, storage, distribution, sale, and import, to ensure the availability of safe and wholesome food for human consumption and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.

This act defines various related terms which have been used in the act and are relevant to food safety and standard. It lays down the composition of the Food Safety and Standard Authority of India which under it has the members, terms of the members, scientific panel, duties of the authority and proceedings before this authority. Next, this act covers general principles of food safety followed by general provisions as to articles of food, the use of addictive food items or processing lids, genetically modified food, packaging, and labeling. Provisions of import are also given where no adulterated or unsafe food is to be imported into India.

There is a provision for Food Analysis and for which laboratories are recognized and the functions of a food analyst are given.

The offences and penalties can be summarized as follows:
  • Section 48 to Section 67 cover the offences and penalties
  • Penalty for selling food, not of nature or substance or quality demanded- the penalty shall not exceed 5 lakh rupees
  • Penalty for sub-standard food shall not exceed 5 lakh rupees
  • Penalty for misbranded food shall not exceed 3 lakh rupees and the authority can take steps to correct such mistake.
  • Penalty for the misleading advertisement shall be liable for an extent of not more than 10 lakh rupees
  • Penalty for food containing extraneous matter shall not exceed 1 Lakh Rupees
  • Penalty for unhygienic or unsanitary processing or manufacturing of food shall not exceed 1 Lakh Rupees
  • Penalty for processing an adulterant; in case it is not injurious to health then in that case not exceed 2 lakh rupees but if it is injurious to health then maybe to the extent of 10 Lakh Rupees
  • Punishment for unsafe food varies from 1 lakh rupees to 10 lakh rupees as according to Section 59 of the act
  • Section 65 covers the compensation in case of injury or death of a consumer, be liable to 5 lakh rupees in case of death; 3 lakh in case of grievous hurt and 1 lakh in case of all other injuries, the food authority can also cancel the food license of such person, etc.



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