Food Adulteration in India

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Food Adulteration in India


Food adulteration is one of the serious challenges in Indian society. Despite various measures and penalties, the problem continues to remain a big challenge for the country. Consumers around the country are increasingly more stringent laws besides demanding information on the source and reassurance of the origin and details on reprocessed food.

Food is adulterated to increase the quantity and make more profit. The food is sucked of its nutrients and the place where the food is grown is often contaminated. For example, Milk is mixed with water. Vanaspati is used as an adulterant for ghee. Ergot is used as an adulterant for cereals. Chalk powder is used as an adulterant for flour. Chicory is used as an adulterant for coffee. Papaya seeds are used as an adulterant for pepper. Brick-powder is used as an adulterant for chilly-powder. Tamarind seed powder is used as an adulterant for coffee. Wood powder is adulterated for turmeric and dhania powder.

What is food adulteration?

Food adulteration is an act of adding or mixing poor quality, inferior, harmful, substandard, useless or unnecessary substances to foods. This act of spoiling the nature and quality of food items is considered food adulteration.

An adulterant is a chemical substance that should not be contained within other substances (e.g. food, beverages, and fuels) for legal or other reasons. The addition of adulterants is called adulteration. The word is appropriate only when the additions are unwanted by the recipient. Otherwise, the expression would be a food additive. Adulterants when used in illicit drugs are called cutting agents, while the deliberate addition of toxic adulterants to food or other products for human consumption is known as poisoning.

What are the types of food adulteration?

  • Turmeric, dals and pulses such as moong or channa: Here adulterant is Metanil Yellow and Kesari Dal (Added to enhance the yellow colour of a food substance). Its harmful effect is that it is highly carcinogenic and if consumed over a continuous period of time it can also cause stomach disorders.
  • Green chillies, green peas and other vegetables: Here adulterant is Malachite Green (To accentuate the bright, glowing green colour of the vegetable). Argemone seeds (used to add bulk and weight) that it is a coloured dye that has proven to be carcinogenic for humans if consumed over a long period of time.
  • Mustard seeds and mustard oil: Here adulterant is Argemone seeds (used to add bulk and weight).Papaya seeds (used to add bulk)that the consumption of these could cause epidemic dropsy and severe glaucoma. Young children and senior citizens with poor immunity are more susceptible to this.
  • Paneer, khoya, condensed milk and milk: Here adulterant is starch (used to give it thick, rich texture). Its harmful effect is that it is unhygienic, unprocessed water and starch can cause stomach disorders. Starch greatly reduces the nutritional value of the ingredient.
  • Ice cream: Here adulterant is pepperonil, ethylacetate, butraldehyde, emilacetate, nitrate, washing powder etc are not less than poison. Pepper oil is used as a pesticide and ethyl acetate causes terrible diseases affecting lungs, kidneys and heart. Ice cream is manufactured in the extremely cold chamber where fat is hardened and several harmful substances are added. Also, a kind of gum is added which is sticky and slow melting. This gum is obtained by boiling animal parts like tail, the nose, the udder etc.
  • Black pepper: Here adulterant is Papaya seeds (used to add bulk). Its harmful effect is that Papaya seeds can cause serious liver problems and stomach disorders. Coffee powder: Here adulterant is Tamarind seeds, chicory powder (used to add bulk and colour). Its harmful effect is that it can cause diarrhoea, stomach disorders, giddiness and severe joint pains.
  • Some other adulterants: The starch in rice powder or wheat flour, often added to thicken cream, could be identified by the blue colour produced by a dilute solution of iodine in aqueous potassium iodide. Red wine adulterated with the juice of bilberries or elderberries produced a deep blue precipitate with lead acetate. Of all forms of adulteration, the most reprehensible was the use of poisonous colouring matters in the manufacture of jellies and sweets. The bright colours used to attract children often contained lead, copper or mercury salts.

Food preservatives have a very extensive use, which often constitutes adulteration. Salt is the classic preservative but is seldom classified as an adulterant. Salicylic, benzoic, and boric acids, and their sodium salts, formaldehyde, ammonium fluoride, sulphurous acid and its salts are among the principal preservatives. Many of these appear to be innocuous, but there is a danger that the continued use of food preserved by these agents may be injurious. Some preservatives have been conclusively shown to be injurious when used for a long period.

Legislation regarding Food Adulteration in India

In the year 1954, the Central Government consolidated legal provisions by way of appropriate legislative amendments were made and the offences were categorised punishable with punishment extending up to life imprisonment.

In the year 2006, the Food Safety and Standard Act was passed by Parliament which ultimately came into force in the year 2010.

This Act repealed various laws including the Act of 1954, the Meat Food Products Order 1973, the Milk and Milk Product Order 1992 etc. In terms of the new law, surprisingly, the penal provision for various offences was placed like monetary terms. Penalties for very serious offences were diluted to the punishment between three months to six years.

When this new law was promulgated, we had already seen more than a decade of the new regime of liberalization and various sectors in the food and agro-industry had come into the market with all their aggression to collect money by selling their product to the newly emerged middle class and lower middle class.

The provision for life imprisonment for certain offences had been taken away and the Food Safety Standard Act gave considerable comfort to the business houses dealing with the food industry. Corporate houses had a lot of say when this legislation was in the process of finalization. It appears that the seriousness of the issue was not felt while drafting the law in 2006.

It is in this background, one Mr Swami Achyutanand Tirth filed a petition in the Supreme Court complaining as to how the most used food item, milk, was being sold in the market. He relied upon the executive summary of the National Survey of Milk Adulteration of 2011 to show that more than 68% of milk being sold in the country was adulterated and in some States, 100% of milk samples were found to be adulterated.

Before the Food Adulteration Act, the India Penal Code 1860 had provisions [set out in Section 272 onwards] about adulteration of food, drugs, drinks etc where the offences were punishable to the extent of 6 months imprisonment and fine.

The States like Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal considered it to be insufficient and made appropriate amendments in the 1970s to make the offences punishable up to life imprisonment and fine. This was followed by Orissa in 1999. It was after these amendments of UP and Wet Bengal, the Central government amended the Act of 1954 in 1976 where under few offences were made punishable with life imprisonment.

The Act of 2006 repeals all other provisions relating to food items adulteration but does not specifically take away the State amendments in IPC by but these provisions have come under the cloud and has been held to be inapplicable by the judicial pronouncement of the High Court of Allahabad in the case of Pepsi where Pepsico India Holding challenged the validity of government of UP’s action to initiate criminal prosecution under the amended provisions of Indian Penal Code under section 272 and 273.

The main ground taken by Pepsi was that section 272-273 of IPC was repealed by the 2006 Act of Parliament by way of necessary implication as the 2006 law occupied complete field about adulteration of foodstuff. In this background, the Division Bench of the High Court took a view that since the entire process of the enquiry etc has to be done under 2006 law, invoking section 272 and 273 of IPC for conviction and sentencing shall be wholly unjustified and non-est and accordingly States action under IPC was held to be non-established and quashed the FIR.

The issue as to whether the view of the High Court that the IPC cannot be invoked although the Food Safety Act 2006 has not repealed provisions of IPC, is pending consideration in the Supreme Court of India in an appeal filed by the Government of U.P. on which the Supreme Court shall take a view.

During the pendency of the Writ Petition of Swami Tirath, the Supreme Court was appraised with the steps being undertaken for coming out with appropriate legislative amendment for enhancing the penalties in the Food Safety Standard Act, 2006.

By way of interim direction, the Supreme Court had directed the Central Government to consider the amendments as set out by the State of U.P., West Bengal and Orissa in section 272 of the Indian Penal Code. Now the petition has been finally decided by the Supreme Court wherein the Supreme Court has observed that it will be so that the Union of India comes up with a suitable amendment in Food Safety and Standard Act by making penal provision at par with the provisions contained in the State amendments.

According to the interim director of the Supreme Court, in December 2015, the Minister concerned made the statement in the Parliament that the government was proposing to comprehensively review the Food Safety and Standards Act, Rules and Regulations to address the concerns of courts in matters relating to food adulteration and numerous representations received from food business operators and further stated that they proposed to revisit the punishment stipulated for milk adulteration and make it more stringent.

The Central Government has been making such a statement for last more than three years but finally, it has not been able to make such amended provisions. It is expected that the Central government will take immediate steps by bringing such penal provisions to save the life of millions in the country who fall prey to adulterated food and drink items.

Government initiatives

In India, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare is completely responsible for providing safe food to the citizens. The Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954 has laid down guidelines to provide pure and wholesome foods to consumers. The Act was last amended in 1986 to make punishments more stringent and to empower consumers further. But recently, the government is planning to enforce harsher punishment.

The FSSAI has issued the draft amendments to the Food Safety and Standards (FSS) Act, which was passed in 2006 but the regulations were notified only in 2011. Among key amendments, FSSAI has proposed to include a new section to crack down on food adulteration. For example, “Any person…adds an adulterant to food to render it injurious for human consumption with an inherent potential to cause his death or is likely to cause grievous hurt, irrespective of the fact whether it causes actual injury or not, shall be punishable for a term which shall not be less than 7 years but which may extend to imprisonment for life and also fine which shall not be less than Rs 10 lakh,”.

Among other amendments, FSSAI has proposed setting of state food safety authorities so that this law can be enforced in letter and spirit. It has also proposed an increase in the punishment for obstructing, impersonating, intimidating and threatening and assaulting a food safety officer.

The regulatory body has recommended imprisonment of not less than 6 months and up to two years, besides a penalty of up to Rs 5 lakh. At present, the imprisonment is up to three months and the fine is up to Rs 1 lakh. One of the among the new stringent conditions of the FSSAI is that it has further proposed that a person convicted under this law will have to pay fees and other expenses incidental to the analysis of any food or food contact article in respect of which the conviction is obtained and any other reasonable expenses incurred by the prosecution. This has been a proposal was made in line with the provision of Singapore’s Sale of Food Act.


Protecting the health of the consumer along with rights must be the primary goal. Besides, preventing fraud or wrong practices are important and challenging issues facing the food industry. So, the food industry and manufacturers must take also perform their part to curb the menace of food adulteration. But, refusing to help by that adulterants are unknown, and difficultly to recognize using the targeted screening methods from the business communities cannot be accepted. Besides, these manufacturers and companies must also provide and confirm the authenticity and source of food products and their components. Besides, FSSAI’s proposal to enforce stringent laws to combat the growing measures must be implemented.

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