EXCLUSIVE The Right to Information Vs Confidential Information
Instead of regulating hazardous food industry like Coke and Pepsi, the Food Safety Law is in effect a law for deregulating hazardous industry. Article 14(5) on Functions of Food Authority states:
The food Authority shall not disclose or cause to be disclosed to third parties confidential information that it receives for which confidential treatment has been requested and has been acceded.
Coke and Pepsi are hiding behind Trade Secrets to not disclose the ingredients of their soft drinks to the Rajasthan High Court. Union Carbide hid behind Trade Secrets to not disclose the nature of the gas leak in Bhopal and allowed thousands to die and millions to be crippled. Food and health are too important to be sacrificed to corporate confidentiality. The Right to Information must be the basis of any Food Safety Law.
In the year 2005, we need to learn from the food mistakes of the industrialized food systems. Systems that have created Mad Cow Disease and unleashed an epidemic of obesity and diabetes. These diseases of unhealthy processing are not identified as ‘food hazards’ in food safety laws, though they are a hazard to health. That is why the proposed law is obsolete – it fails to take into account the diseases related to industrial food processing which are creating ill health and should be treated as unsafe.
Law for Food Facism : The License Permit Raj for the Food Economy
The Food Safety and Standards Bill 2005 threatens to create a culture of ‘Food Facism’.
Industrial foods need chemical labs, genetically engineered foods need genetic I.D. labs, but cooking fresh dal and roti does not need testing for toxic chemicals and transgenes. The risk and safety standards for Lassi in a Dhaba and a synthetic Milkshake at a Fast Food chain must be different. As Eric Schlosser has reported in his best seller Fast Food Nation, ‘A typical artificial strawberry flavor, like the kind found in a Burger King strawberry milk shake, contains the following ingredients: amyl acetate, amyl butyrate, amyl valerate, anethol, anisyl formate, benzyl acetate, benzyl isobutyrate, butyric acid, cinnamyl isobutyrate, cinnamyl valeratge, cognac ssential oil diacetyl, dipropyl ketone, ethyl acetate, ethyl amyl ketone, ethyl butyrate, ethyl cinnamate, ethyl heptanoate, ethyl heptylate, ethyl lactate, ethyl methylphenylglycidate, ethyl nitrate, ethyl propionate, ethyl valerate, heliotropin, hydroxyphenyl-2 butanone (10 per cent solution in alcohol), a-ionone, isobutyl anthranilate, isobutyl butyrate, lemon essential oil, maltol, 4-methylacetophenone, methyl anthranilate, methyl benzoate, methyl cinnamate, methyl heptine carbonate, methyl naphthyl ketone, methyl salicylate, mint essential oil, neroli essential oil, nerolin, neryl isobutyrate, orris butter, phenethyl alcohol, rose, rum ether, y-undecalactone, vanillin, an solvent.
We are better off sticking to Lassi and treating these toxics as Food Adulterants under PFA rather than allowing them into our food systems, and using the toxic food culture of U.S. as the standard for pseudo safety. Risk Assessment in the hands of centralized corruptible agencies is no protection for consumers as the disease and health epidemic in the U.S. linked to over processed, industrial foods shows. Even while the U.S. is at the epicenter of the food related public health crises, the U.S. government is trying to export its Food laws which deregulate the industry and over regulate ordinary citizens and small enterprise. This deregulation of the big and toxic and over regulation of the small and ecological is at the core of Food Facism, which the proposed Integrated Food law tries to introduce on the basis of the US Model.
Firstly, it sets up a coercive apparatus of centralized control, which lends itself to corruption. It creates a license permit Raj in food when the rhetoric is about ending it. A license and inspector raj controlled from Delhi is a recipe for corruption. In the area of food, corruption could kill.
Secondly, it is inappropriate to ‘integrate’ what are in effect different activities and different products. Small scale, local natural food processing for largely local consumption use fresh foods is based on transparent cooking, natural and organic processing without toxic chemicals in front of the consumer. This cannot be measured with the same safety standards as needed for large-scale processing with chemicals, or for foods containing GMOs.
Traceability is a particular challenge created by GMO’s. In a law for GM foods it would have a place. However to demand that in India’s’ self organized, informal, orally organized local food economy, every food operator will have systems and procedures for traceability in which all for this information to be made available to the competent authorities is to kill small food providers with the burden of a corrupt and unwieldy bureaucratic control (Article 27 on Traceability). The core of the Act is bureaucratic control through a licence permit raj. Article 31(1) states that no person shall manufacture, sell, stock, distribute or exhibit for sale any article of food, including ready-to-serve food, irradiated food except under a licence issued by the state Commissioner of Food Safety or its authorized officer. Roasted peanuts or chanas, and irradiated foods have been lumped in the same category of hazards. A bharbuja (maker of roasted grains) and the Mumbai dabbawalas will be burdened with the same licensing arrangements as a High Fructose Corn Syrup factory of Cargill. This mix up between a small scale self organized sector and a large scale industrialized food sector is the most lethal aspect o the proposed law.
Undemocratic, bureaucratically designed, corporate driven food safety laws like the proposed law destroy safe alternatives and promote unsafe industrial food production. According to Colin Tudge ‘overall, the food-safety laws of Britain are extensive and intricate and more and more detailed, so that its becoming very difficult even to keep a few chickens or pigs for local use, or to run a village shop, or to sell cakes at the church bazaar. Men and women in suits or with nylon hats and clipboards descend like flies to point out ways in which small farmers and traders could in theory poison their customers. At the same time, the government that makes these laws presides over policies that seem designed expressly to maximize the spread of disease.
In Britain, where local economies have been destroyed, pseudo-safety laws prevent little old ladies from selling their homemade cakes in churches for charity. In India such laws would criminalize annadana, the langars of gurudwaras, the zakat at the Mosques and Dargahs, and the bhandaras which feed millions of poor people daily in temples, the livelihoods of our chaiwalas and dhabawalas, the entire household and cottage industry in food processing would be made illegal overnight, leading to the criminalization of our safe foods and legalization of food crimes.
There is only one system for food safety – locally produced, freshly processed food – of which we have abundance in India’s non-industrial local food systems. Pseudo-hygiene and food safety laws that are designed for the disease producing industrial, long distance convoluted system of getting food from farms to tables will not produce safety. They will produce poverty and unemployment by destroying millions of small-scale livelihoods in food production and processing.
A modern food law would recognize that our decentralized food economy enhances nutrition, safety, culture and livelihoods. We need laws to protect our diverse local food cultures from the disease causing homogenous, centralized industrial food culture of the west. Our biodiversity and cultural diversity of food have built robust localized food economies. Our skilled and knowledgeable food processes are the future of food. We cannot allow a law manipulated by global food giants and promoted by power-hungry bureaucrats to take away our food freedom and food sovereignty. We need a stronger PFA. We do not need a food police from Delhi to destroy our rich food culture through pseudo-safety standards which serve global business. We need society led, participatory, democratic systems to enrich our food systems, promote health and nutrition and guarantee food safety. Delhi needs to control the Monsantos, Coca-Colas and Cargills, not our dhabas and our kitchens. Let the government regulate agribusiness through the PFA. We will regulate ourselves as community and civil society. We will not be ruled through the law for food facism. We will shape laws for our food freedom. This is our food sovereignty. This is our Anna Swaraj.
Vandana Shiva, a writer and ‘ecological scientist’, directs the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Natural Resource Policy in New Delhi. Her current work centers on biodiversity and sustainable agriculture. She is a Slow Food international councilor.