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Posted Online on Tuesday, 6 February 2007
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Need to update Indian food labeling laws
The Indian food industry is going through revolutionary changes from farm to fork. All food commodities from fresh foods to packaged products are seeing a rapid transformation in the way they are produced, marketed, sold, and consumed. The regulation of the food industry, however, is not keeping up with the changes and it is the consumers who are emerging as the losers.
It is the responsibilities of the government to ensure that the sellers are honest in selling their products and that they indeed deliver what they promise. Increasingly, it has been observed that gullible consumers are being conned by unscrupulous elements of the food industry. Take for instance Halal meat. All Muslims are mandated by their religion to consume only Halal or religiously permissible foods. In order for the meat to be Halal, the animal or bird has to be slaughtered by a Muslim and the name of God has to be invoked. There was a time when people would buy their meats from the good old local butcher and there was no need to doubt his honesty. But with the onset of commercialization slaughterhouses are being moved outside the big cities. In principle it is a welcome step as it is supposed to ensure hygiene and safety and ensures that residential areas are not polluted. It was also claimed that the shifting of the slaughter houses to non-residential areas will result in better regulation by the authorities. But reality is far from such claims.
In Hyderabad there was uproar last year after an Urdu newspaper exposed the irregularities in the municipality administered slaughterhouses. The prescribed prayers were not recited, the recommended procedure of slaughter was disregarded and in many cases even the slaughtermen were not Muslims.
Similarly, it has been reported that no Halal meat is available in Lucknow. The corporation slaughterhouse has done away with the provision to have a knowledgeable person as in charge of the slaughtering process. The animals are now being slaughtered in the
jhatka style, thus rendering the meat inconsumable by Muslims. Even the meat slaughtered by Muslim butchers in their homes or businesses cannot be trusted as they themselves are reportedly unaware of the rules of Shariah.
Things are not much different in the processed food industry. Packaged food products do not fully disclose their Halal status. Those that do are not clear on what they deem to be Halal. Several fast food companies advertise their products as Halal even though their slaughtering practices are in direct contravention of Shariah. To top it all there is absolutely no supervision by any independent organization or the government. Legislation known as the
Prevention of Food Adulteration Act & Rules mandates that all non-vegetarian and vegetarian food be marked with red and green symbols (dots). This legislation in its current form is inadequate as it does not inform the consumer about the way the product has been produced.
The government should take immediate measures to introduce legislation similar to the one enforced in several US states requiring the companies and retailers to be more clear about the Halal status of their fresh meats and packaged products. In addition, there is urgent need for the formation of an independent body like the Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America, consisting of religious scholars and food scientists, to independently monitor and certify the food products. The emergence of this new system will ensure that the rights of the consumers are protected.
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org