The Scourge of Adulteration in India

Consumption of edible oil is one of the basic needs of society. The affluent sections of society purchase this commodity in bulk as part of their grocery shopping list. This purchase is in convenient packets of ½ kilograms and other higher bulk weights. But a vast majority cannot afford bulk purchases.

The economically weaker sections of society are mostly daily wage earners. The purchasing of edible oil by this stratum of society is in small quantities. As of now we do not have pre-packaged micro and small quantity packets. So, though sale of loose edible oil is banned, the lack of packed oil in small packets is making a mockery of this law.  Loose oil continues to be sold with impunity.

The sale of loose oil comes with hazards. The consumer may not get the correct desired quantity for which they pay. Adulteration is rampant. Unscrupulous traders mix low priced oil with high priced oil and palm it off as the high priced one.

Many a times, the oil sold is loose, in those cases, pinning responsibility is not possible. Had it been a packaged one, the said Company could have been penalised.

If it is packaged or branded oil, it can be traced to the company and if inferior oil found, legal action can be taken against such scrupulous players. 

The Indian Vegetable Oil Producers Association have been very active on this front seeking to protect the interests of consumers. It has been taking up the matter with Food Safety and Standards Authority of India for enforcing:

  • Sale of loose oil to be banned.
  • Packaging of oil be made mandatory for its sale
  • Use of second hand and fabricated tins to be prohibited to pack edible oil.

In the time when we are racked by the COVID-19 pandemic, putting consumer health to risk on account of unadulterated loose oil is avoidable. Oil being sold in loose forms oxidises easily. On products not meeting FSSAI standards, if sold in loose form, responsibility cannot be pinned on anyone. The exact quantity of oil a consumer gets cannot be evaluated as it is in loose form and the chances of the lower strata of society getting short changed is very high.

Packaging of oil in small units of 50 ml, 100 ml and 200 ml needs to be encouraged. The cost of packaging is less than 5% of the overall cost which is a small price to pay for plugging in the gaps in health security.

The sale of loose oil thrives on the resale of used tins. As per BIS and FSSAI standards, edible oil should be packed only in new tins. But with a flourishing market for reuse of second-hand tins, recycling of tins happens. These tins are cheaper than the brand-new ones but a huge health hazard. The fabrication units and second-hand cleaning dumps which helps in recycling used tins needs to be isolated and closed.

Adulteration happens in packaged edible oils too. Periodic checks by the concerned authorities is a must and strict action needs to be taken against adulterators and those selling inferior brand of goods.

For greater accountability and traceability, the below measures could come in handy.:

  • Bulk Edible oil can be transported from Refineries to Packers and from there to the Consumers. This will create a trail for traceability in case of adulteration. Packing in small packets starting from 50 ml can be introduced at this stage.
  • Even the smallest unit of sale should be in pre-packaged form. Newer health friendly packaging materials are available which should be used. The cost of packing has come down substantially. This will ensure the extra cost of packing is minimal.

To curb the menace of adulteration, Food Safety and Standards Authority of India on 23rd September, 2020 prohibited blending in mustard oil to facilitate manufacture and sale of pure mustard oil for domestic consumption in public interest with effect from 1st October, 2020. No manufacuring of blended edible vegetable oil with mustard oil as an ingredient shall be allowed with effect from 1st October, 2020.

However, some companies have got a stay order on this notification from High Court, citing too short a notice for companies to change.

In the meantime, Food safety regulator, FSSAI has decided to intensify crackdwon against the sale of adulterated edible oil with a pan- India surveillance of edible oil, both for branded and unbranded oil samples.

Trade bodies like The Indian Vegetable-Oil Producers’Association (IVPA ) and The Solvent Extractors’ Association ( SEA ) of India support all steps taken by the Government of India to curb the malaise of adulteration. At the same time, they also support legal blending of oils as permitted as this has its own nutritional values.

For long, people have been lax in public health safety measures. The COVID-19 pandemic is a wake-up call. Eventually loose oil ban will be a game changer for industry and a move towards the FSSAI’s objective of Safe and Nutritious Food (SNF) and justifies Eat Right Campaign. India is also strengthening the Consumer Protection Act.  The draft regulations impose stricter penalties and hopefully take it a step ahead towards safe food movement. Edible oil is one of the cornerstones of our cooking. All steps should be taken to ensure adulteration of edible oil is crushed with an iron hand.  

Prepared by  Bhavna Shah

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