Make food and drugs safer for consumption in India

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Dear Respected Prime Minister,

I am pained to write this letter and make this earnest request, to you. Only you can do it if you put your mind to it.

You must be aware of the kind and extent of mischief that is going on in the food and drug (medicine) industry in this country, indulged in by unscrupulous elements with narrow commercial  / criminal intent, in collusion with enforcement officials.

Most food items sold in the market even in large branded super / hyper markets are adulterated and misrepresented, using appearance enhancing deadly chemical coatings and ingestion.  Some of these are attributed to imports from China. Many are the orchestrated job of local elements under the cover of Chinese imported products.

We hear of plastic rice, plastic based eggs, artificial cabbage, vegetables and fruits grown using dangerous growth enhancing chemicals / pesticides,  several appearance /taste enhancing/ addictive ingredients (masalas) that are cancerous, affecting digestive and nervous system, vulnerable children, causing obesity, diabetic and heart diseases. Please recall the recently introduced junk food tax in Kerala

Cereals are coated with oily substance to make them appear fresh and shining, fruits are coated with wax to give shiny appearance, provisions are adulterated with stones, fruits are artificially ripened using poisonous / cancerous material that also give a pleasant appearance of freshness and ready to eat for the buyer. Use of plastics  (looking like rice grains) to mix with rice, touted as Chinese rice, has been doing the rounds in social media for some time.

Milk is adulterated with chemicals beyond permissible limits to stretch shelf life and give an appearance of richness and high fat content,  that children and infants cannot consume. Under the mask of permissible preservatives (to be used within limits) it blatantly crosses all permissible safety limits. Packaged fruit juices have no / small fraction of fruit juice in it, but contain only colored sweetened water (masked as permissible coloring agents, sugar and preservatives in very fine print)

Sweets sold in fancy sweet shops are made of adulterated oil, repeatedly used, that are cancerous. Even spent automobile lubricants are used. Bakery items are adulterated with urea.

There is adulteration in farm produce: from seed, fertilizer, pesticides (unscrupulously used crossing all safety norms); processing, conversion to edible food in hotels / restaurants, in packing using dangerous plastic based carriers (bottles, wrappers, plastic covers, carry bags).

Traders and businessmen get away by bribing the already weak, incompetent, corrupt and unprofessional enforcement machinery (anything will be passed off as certified and compliant for a price). If someone gets caught they escape under the cover of Chinese imported products, we can’t do anything, we are only traders excuse, escaping accountability. If by misfortune someone is still caught by the law they escape by getting bail available for a price. By the time the case comes up for hearing and any verdict of punishment is delivered,  it is always too little too late, watered down  and is never a disincentive for indulging in again.

I recall a TV program captured under cover by some investigative journalist where it is openly shown, how bones of carcasses / left overs from abattoirs are finely powdered in a factory, with license, in Delhi suburbs to be mixed with cheap ghee looking substance to make it appear grainy yellow natural cows' ghee. Incidentally this factory was owned by a bigwig in Delhi's who is who circles.

Even what is sold as potable mineral water have been proved to be just filtered ground water containing  poisonous chemicals such as arsenic, lead ... unsafe to drink.  Mis-representation to mislead the customer is the norm. Shops sell organic foods that are nothing organic except carrying a green colored sticker. Why don’t we have standards for quality, authenticity and safety that can be tested for claims made and are enforceable?  Why do we let unscrupulous elements get away with crime on the poor citizens?

Those in the business escape by quoting the stickers on the products or small print caution,  that have become common in today’s business environment. Stickers carry different meanings depending on their color, the no. of stripes in the bar code and alphabets used. Does the government expect every citizen to do an investigation / do a PhD on the meaning of these stickers, before they buy products or be experts on everything under the sun or carry an expert every time we go shopping or go to a restaurant or a shop to buy food products or take sample of every edible substance to a testing lab before consumption and file a complaint to teh food and drug inspector?

The scenario is no different in the drug industry who sell drugs that are banned anywhere else in the world but India;  drugs that are unsafe even for animals, drugs that have long term fatal effects, drugs manufactured in unhygienic environment, drugs that violate all safety norms of manufacture, processes, ingredients, disclosure, sale, expiry.  Mis-representation of ingredients, efficacy, benefits / harmful effects is rampant, leading unsuspecting citizens into buying these.

Please do something to bring those involved in the long chain: from standards bodies, enforcement officials, scientists, food and drug testing labs, certifying agencies and inspectors, the traders at every level (producer, transporter, processor, seller….) to accountability.

If we don’t act now it may be too late. This is a huge mafia of goons at every stage, the entire trade chain and the profession; the business running into thousands of billions of dollar equivalent. Please please please act now. You can, if you put your mind to it.

Your next war after black money and corruption should be on adulteration in everything everywhere, Mr. prime Minister. The rich and the affluent maintain their own farms or import safe quality food from more reliable sources, more stringently regulated geographies. They don’t consume what they sell to the masses; they just make money from that.

We are one of the most unreliable and unsafe geographies in the world where nothing can be taken on its face value or take disclosures as reliable and serious. We just cannot trust anything, anyone, for anything including enforcement machinery officials. The honest ones are either relegated to inconsequential corners or bumped off by criminal gangs. The pliable ones are bought over and inducted into the mafia. Such acts start at the policy, standards setting stage, testing for safety, compliance norms, enforcement … the entire value chain.

It is not difficult to find out who is doing this, how it is being done, when and where as these criminal acts are done in the open blatantly. It just needs the will, integrity and intent to clean up the system.

Enforcement system should not wait for someone to complaint and bring evidence and take shelter under the guise ‘no one has complained’. No one will complain officially since he/she will be bombarded with demands for evidence of the crime and so on, by officials. Few people have the time and resources to do an investigation before complaining.  Instead of waiting for someone to complain, they should do their job suo-moto, not use it as an opportunity for harassment and make money for themselves, but achieve the end result of eradicating adulteration of any kind anywhere. It should be enough if someone even complains anonymously without evidence but only on suspicion, the machinery should wake up and start their work. The punishment should be so stringent, swift and severe that no one will dare again such adventures to exploit our large market for mischievous gain.

Adulteration, misrepresentation and misleading promises are not the monopoly of the food and drug industry alone. It is rampant in the education sector to lure unsuspecting students to enroll for courses sold with rosy picture and promises never fulfilled, at fancy prices.

It appears we are a country of rouges, sycophants, criminals soothsayers with hidden agenda; who can commit any crime and run away. Those who indulge in the hit and run  (loot and scoot) game turn out to be smarter than honest law abiding well-meaning citizens and are hero worshipped. There are all incentives and infrastructure for people to be adventurous, blatantly violate laws of the land, short change the uninitiated and get away without any bruises. We need to root this out mercilessly. Ease and safety of living is more important than Ease of Doing Business that has adorned headlines everywhere. Please also create headlines for Ease of living. Thank you sir 

 



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