2nd January, 2021 Mains



  • Environment watchdog Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) recently shared with FSSAI the details of its investigation into the “well-organised” honey adulteration business in India.
  • The CSE reported adulteration of honey with sugar syrup by major brands in the country including Dabur and Marico.

What is food adulteration?

  • Food adulteration is an act of adding or mixing of poor quality, inferior, harmful, substandard, useless or unnecessary substances and chemicals to food by incidental or intentional means.

Causes of Food Adulteration

  • Profit motive of traders: Done as a part of the business strategy
  • Food insecurity: To increase the quantity of food production and sales.
  • Increased Urbanization: To make maximum profit from food items by fewer investments.
  • High population demands Increased food demand of the population and its changing trends.
  • Lack of awareness of the general public: Lack of consciousness of proper food consumption.
  • Lack of effective food laws
  • Lack of government initiatives

Food adulteration in India: Statistics

  • Twenty-six thousand food samples were found adulterated or misbranded in 2018-19 in India: GOI Report.
  • In its 2020 annual report, Food Safety and Standards Authority of India revealed the doubling of adulteration cases in the last eight years.
  • According to the report, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, and Tamil Nadu had the highest percentage (45%) of adulterated samples.

Erosion of Business Ethics

  • From local vendors to multinational brands, food adulteration is a real problem in India, putting public health at risk.
  • In the prevailing business environment, most of the organizations primarily aim to maximize profits.
  • This results in complete erosion of 'social responsibility' which should be the cardinal mantra for transacting business.
  • 70% of deaths are supposed to be of food-borne origin.
  • Food adulteration in India starts from the field itself where fertilizers and pesticides are overused.
  • A Report by Public Health Foundation of India attributed 80 percent of all premature deaths to contaminated food and water.
  • Adulterated food is dangerous because it may be toxic and can affect health and it could deprive nutrients essential for proper growth and development of a human being.

Cases in Point

  • In 2014, Mother Dairy's Deputy Manager was jailed for supplying adulterated milk products. 
  • The National Survey on Milk Adulteration 2011 found that eight per cent of milkin India was found to have detergents. Other contaminants like urea, starch, glucose and formalin, too, are used as adulterants.
  • World: Cases of melamine contaminated milk products were found in China. The level of the toxic chemical melamine found in samples was up to 500 times the permitted limit.
  • 1998, adulterated mustard oil poisoning resulted in the deaths of more than 60 in Delhi and 3000 people fell ill. It was found that white oil was mixed with edible mustard oil.
  • In 2006 New Delhi Center for Science and Environment (CSE) reported that pesticide residues were found in Coca-Cola and PepsiCo brands. The pesticide content was found tobe 24 times higher than safety standards on aerated drinks developed by the Bureau of Indian Standards.
  • KFC in India:  KFC entered India in 1995 and has been in the midst of controversy since then. The regulatory authorities found that KFC's chickens did not adhere to the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954. Chickens contained nearly three times more monosodium glutamate (popularly known as MSG, a flavour enhancing ingredient) as allowed by the Act. Since the late 1990s, KFC faced severe protests by People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), an animal rights protection organisation. PETA accused KFC of cruelty towards chickens and released a video showing the ill-treatment of birds in KFC's poultry farms. However, undeterred by the protests by PETA and other animal rights organizations, KFC planned a massive expansion programme in India and it succeeded in doing so.

  • Right to food is one of the human rights of consumer’s to which every consumer is entitled by virtue of being born as human beings.

 “The lure of riches and general apathy towards mankind has led to adulterants being added to food from the simple stones in rice to the more harmful brick and boric powder…"

It is important to note that Food Adulteration is a part of a broader issue – i.e Food Fraud!

Long term implications

Steps taken

  • To overcome food adulteration the government of India introduced many Acts.
  • The Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954
  • The Fruit Products Order, 1955
  • The Meat Food Products Order, 1973
  • The Vegetable Oil Products (Control) Order, 1947
  • The Edible Oils Packaging (Regulation) Order, 1998
  • The Solvent Extracted Oil, De oiled Meal, and Edible Flour (Control) Order, 1967
  • The Milk and Milk Products Order, 1992
  • Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006
  • Food Safety and Standards (Licensing and Registration of Food Businesses) Regulation, 2011.
  • Food Safety and Standards (Packaging and Labeling) Regulation, 2011.
  • Food Safety and Standards (Laboratory and Sampling Analysis) Regulation, 2011.
  • Food Safety and Standards (Food Product Standards and Food Additives) Regulation, 2011.
  • With respect to food adulteration laws, the recent Consumer Protection Bill 2018, has added certain provisions such as penalties for misleading advertisement as well as manufacturing and selling of adulterated or spurious goods.
  • The Food Safety & Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) proposed to ban the sale & promotion of junk food in schools.
  • Foods high in fat, salt & sugar can’t be sold to school children in school canteens, mess premises & hostel kitchens, as well as within 50 meters of the school campus.

Supreme Court Judgements

  • Make milk adulteration punishable with life imprisonment: SC
  • In one of its recent judgements, the Supreme Court has observed that the word 'adulterated' provided in Sec-13 (2) of the Act also includes 'misbranded'.

The nexus between corrupt officials and Industries

In 2018, Patiala police claimed that officials of the district health department’s food safety wing have been taking bribes since 2014 for allowing production of spurious items at the factory.Nearly 7,000 litre spurious milk, 50kg each of skimmed powered milk, 250 litres of chemical used in making adulterated milk, 20 quintal cheese and 12 quintal ghee were seized.

A threat to established practices: The beginning

In 1820, Accum published “Treatise on Adulteration of Food”, in which he denounced the use of chemical additives to food. This work marked the beginning of an awareness of need for food safety oversight. Accum was the first person to tackle the subject and to reach a wide audience through his activities. However, it threatened established practices within the food processing industry, earning him many enemies among the London food manufacturers. Accum left England after a lawsuit was brought against him. He lived out the rest of his life as a teacher at an industrial institution in Berlin.Accum’s book was an indictment of what he called “respectable” criminals tampering with food to make money.


Mitigation measures for addressing food adulteration

  • There must be proper surveillance of the implementation of food laws.
  • Regular surveillance, monitoring, inspection and random sampling of food products, including edible oil.
  • There should be monitoring of the activities with periodical records of hazards regarding food adulteration.
  • There should be periodical training programmes for Senior Officer/Inspector/Analysts for food safety.
  • There should be consumer awareness programmes organized by holding exhibitions/seminars/training programmes and publishing pamphlets.
  • In this context, FSSAI has released a booklet called ‘Detect Adulteration with Rapid Test (DART)’ which covers more than 50 common quick tests for detection of food adulterants at household by the citizens themselves so as to induce awareness among the consumers about food safety.
  • FSSAI has also introduced a policy for adoption of Rapid Analytical Food Testing (RAFT) Kit for regulatory purpose.
  • Strict vigil by regularly drawing food samples from all sources viz. Manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers and proper conviction of offenders.
  • Political will and strict actions against officials who collude with industries in food adulteration for money.
  • Regular suspension and cancellation of licenses of offending establishments.
  • Creation of a behavior based food safety management system.
  • Signing bilateral memorandums of understanding with different food quality research centers across the world.

Development of stricter monitoring programs to screen all food products for safety is the only way to secure food supply and address the growing concern over food adulteration.

Inculcating “Food Ethics” in all the spheres: The Way Ahead

  • Food ethics is an interdisciplinary field that provides ethical analysis and guidance for human conduct in the production, distribution, preparation and consumption of food.
  • The need of the hour is to make ethical decision-making a standard practice in the food sector – for business, government and civil society.