It is strange that a government notification on certain food items entering into the state from Myanmar being banned from being sold has not been publicized enough. It’s been some time since there have been stringent moves to contain manufacturers and sellers from withholding information about the quantity, quality of ingredients including their nutrient value in the country since consumers have every right to be informed of what they are consuming. The strict watch over the information of food products is such in the country that even advertisements that are seen as misleading consumers into believing that certain food items are healthier or tastier have had action taken against advertisement agencies while the advertisements are themselves pulled off from air or print. The movement to regulate food ingredients and their nutritive values has come after a long process and efforts put in by health experts and advocates and other civil society group members who have been concerned over how the larger public are ‘co-erced’ by beautiful packaging, glossy advertisements and certain projections that may not be entirely true.
As mentioned in an IFP report, Section 23 of the Food Safety and standards Act, 2006 stipulates that no person can manufacture, distribute, sell or expose for sale or dispatch or deliver to any agent or broker for the purpose of sale, any packaged food products which are not marked and labeled in the manner as may be specified by regulations. Regulation No. 22 lays down norms for labelling of food products and packages: the label would have to include detailed information, the name of food including the trade name or description of food contained in the package and the list of ingredients, names of ingredients used in the product in descending order of their composition by weight or volume, as the case may be, at the time of manufacture etc. Section 25 of the food safety and standards Act, 2006, is binding on people who sell or facilitate the sale of food items. Under this, no person can import into India any unsafe or misbranded or sub-standard food or food containing extraneous matter, any article of food for the import of which a license is required under any Act or Rules or regulations, except in accordance with the conditions of the license. In the light of these rules and stipulations, the ban on food products from Myanmar was in fact over due. It is common knowledge that food items being brought in from Myanmar ranging from the popular sunflower seeds to a host of bakery and milk products and preserved food matter including fruit pickles and tined fish do not mention anything about what ingredients are used, what preservatives are put in much less include information about the time frame in which the product needs to be consumed. Now that the Government has woken up to take a stand against not allowing such products to be available to the public, it ought to have ensured too that the public are sensitized and made aware of why it is necessary for such items to have its constituent information in display. It ought to have first of all, informed the public about the ban and why it is being put into place. Till the time, the public is convinced about the ban and the harmful effects of what unknown food ingredient constituents can do to one’s physiology and health, there will be no real meaning of the ban.
The next logical step would also be to ensure that there are strict measures to put the ban into effect. But more than anything, it could help if the authorities reach out to its neighbour to ensure that their food products display all information and details are required. If Myanmar were to follow suit and display product information, all that the authorities would have to do this side of the border would be to take up quality checks from time to time to assess the truth of the information being given. On the other hand, if an official notification is all that the Government is interested in, there would be no real term change in the nature of consumption. Rather, it would be much like just another ban that will lead to more value being added to the products and creating more demand, given the intrinsic nature of our society to hanker for what is not allowed.