Will government act upon sweet ‘Poison’ in Kashmir?

Kashmir region has become a dumping ground for fake, adulterated and substandard toffees, candies and other confectionery. This investigative report by ZT reveals that most of these products do not abide by the standards and guidelines as prescribed under the Food Safety and Standard Act, 2006 and Rules and Regulations, 2011 Worse, these products are likely to contain additives, preservatives, taste enhances and other chemicals which are known to have serious health implications both for children and adults. Citing children’s health concerns, 98% of the respondents ZT engaged with in a sample survey demand a complete ban on fake and substandard sweets and confectionery in
Jammu & Kashmir. Excerpts of the investigative report are produced here. Full findings are published in ZT print edition.
For quite some time now, there has been public concern that Kashmir valley has become a dumping ground for fake and adultered toffees, candies, chocolates and other confectionery.
ZT set out to understand how serious the situation was – we tried to focus on the places of their manufacture, the content, the pattern of import and distribution, potential health implications on children and what could be done to stop their import.
We travelled across Kashmir to collect samples of various candies and confectionery in the market. Mostly imported from states like Delhi, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu, the trade is thriving. Most of these products do not contain any information about their manufacturers, content, manufacture and expiry dates.
ZT team tried to contact the manufacturers of these products. What has emerged is that most of these products are either fake or do not abide by the standards and guidelines as prescribed under the Food Safety and Standard Act, 2006 and Rules and Regulations, 2011.
What has also emerged is that these products are likely to contain additives, preservatives, taste enhances and other chemicals which are known to have serious health implications both on children and adults.
Children get to buy these products quite easily from market, besides being showered with these fake candies and toffees at weddings and related events.
Medical practitioners ZT spoke to say that the unknown additives, preservatives and other chemicals some of these products use could have serious health implications on children.
Considering that food safety enforcement remains weak in Kashmir, it is time for the government to act. As what has been emphasized by concerned citizens, government must act to ban import of these sub-standard products to the state. It has to act to bring accountability to the system to set right precedence. Inaction is simply no option.
How the spurious candies are dumped
ZT team visited Budgam, Anantnag, Srinagar and Baramulla to understand how the distribution of these sweets takes place.
We learnt that every morning truck containers carrying sub-standard, fake replica of branded confectionery items and candies are unloaded in Anantnag, Pulwama, Karan Nagar, Koker Bazar, Maharaja Gunj markets of Srinagar city.
Without any system of quality check of these products, they are flooded into markets, mostly to rural areas. Subsequently, retail distributors transport these products in vans or bikes to far-off places.
A major chunk of these products are used for consumption in marriage functions by way of packaging them in wicker baskets (tokris) usually distributed during wedding and related functions.
The demand problem
One of the challenges is that there is demand for inexpensive sweets and confectionery in rural areas. “There is huge market of these low quality confectionary products in rural areas. The problem is that even if we import good quality products, there would be few buyers”, said a wholesaler dealer who wished not to be named.
The trail followed by ZT teams indicates that most of these sub-standard products are made in and imported from Delhi, Gujarat, Rajasthan. There is no information available if these factories are legally registered and follow food safety standards.
The profit margin
“There is a good profit margin on it,” said Sajad Ahmad, a retailer who was ordering sub-standard candies. He explained that if a retailer sells a packet of low quality candies, it fetches him a profit of over Rs 30 to Rs 50, while on branded items profit margin was around Rs 20 a packet. A retailer, requesting anonymity, said that not only outside supplies, but some of the fake products are manufactured in Kashmir too.
Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) – Legal Framework
The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has been established under Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006. It has been created for laying down science-based standards for articles of food and to regulate their manufacture, storage, distribution, sale and import to ensure availability of safe and wholesome food for human consumption.
Under this Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, Various central Acts like Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954, Fruit Products Order, 1955, Meat Food Products Order, 1973, Vegetable Oil Products (Control) Order, 1947,Edible Oils Packaging (Regulation) Order 1988, Solvent Extracted Oil,De- Oiled Meal and Edible Flour (Control) Order, 1967, Milk and MilkProducts Order, 1992 etc has been repealed after commencement of FSS Act, 2006.
The Act also aims to establish a single reference point for all matters relating to food safety and standards, by moving from multi- level, multi-departmental control to a single line of command. The independent statutory authority – the Food Safety and Standard Authority of India with head office at Delhi. Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) and the State Food Safety Authorities shall enforce various provisions of the Act.
Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) Guidelines
In line with the global food standards of Codex Alimentarius Commission and WHO, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has laid down several regulations for the use of preservatives. FSSAI, under the Health Ministry, has fixed the maximum limit for use of additives in various food groups to ensure the acceptable daily intake is not exceeded. It has also stepped up measures to strengthen quality standards while reviewing the existing rules for caffeine content, metal contaminants and other residues in food products.
It is mandatory for a food business operator to declare the preservatives used on the label of a packaged food product. The label, normally found on the back of the package, lists ingredients in the order of their quantity in the food and preservatives (used in small amounts) are most often listed at the bottom.
What parents have to be careful about
1. High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)
Cheap, sweet and produced in abundance as compared to regular sugar, HFCS has crept into food supplies over the past few decades. HFCS can increase your bad cholesterol (LDL) levels, leads to obesity and contribute to the development of diabetes.
ZT investigations found that HFCS is still found abundantly in most of the sweets imported to Kashmir.
2. Aspartame
If you think you’re eating healthy because you’ve replaced your sugar with artificial sweeteners like aspartame, you may want to think again! Problems attributed to these sweeteners include severe headaches, nausea, vertigo, slurred speech, memory loss, blindness, ringing in the ears, loss or change of taste.
3. Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
MSG, a salt form of a non-essential amino acid, is a flavour enhancer and common food additive. An excitotoxin, MSG works by triggering the brain to produce excess quantities of the feel-good drug dopamine. Excessive ingestion of MSG can damage cells and result in overeating, which leads to obesity.
4. Potassium Bromate (E924)
Potassium Bromate is added to bread as a flour enhancer – to make it rise better and give it a uniform consistency. On cooking and heating, it breaks down into bromide, which, when consumed in excess, can inhibit the metabolism of the iodine and is regarded as a possible carcinogenic in countries like Canada, Brazil, Peru, and South Korea. A study by the Centre For Science and Environment (CSE) found that nearly 84 % of commonly available brands of packaged breads in India tested positive for potassium bromate. Following the study, this additive was banned by FSSAI.
5. Diacetyl
Diacetyl imparts a buttery taste to food. It is a chemical that is naturally present at low concentrations in a wide variety of foods such as dairy, beer, honey and fruits. However, artificially made diacetyl is added to impart the buttery flavour and aroma as well as to delay rancidity in packaged popcorn. The buttery steam of heated diacetyl can directly reach the lungs and excessive amounts can cause lung disease.
6. Sodium Benzoate (E211)
Often used as a preservative in many foods – including soft drinks, juices, cereals and meats – sodium benzoate is known to kill bacteria in acidic conditions. Several studies have linked sodium benzoate to headaches, stomach upsets, asthma attacks and hyperactivity in children. Combined with ascorbic acid (vitamin C), this salt can form benzene, which has been linked to increased risk of leukemia and other blood cancers. Read the label to check if the product contains ascorbic acid and sodium benzoate together.
7. Colour Additives
Food dyes are one of the most widely used and dangerous additives. Most of them are petroleum-derived and may contribute to behavioural problems in children like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Some have even been implicated as possible carcinogenics. The use of certain colours in food is permitted but the concentration of these colours has been limited to 100 parts per million. It has also been made mandatory for manufacturers to specify the use of colours on their packages. Now you know why you need to stay way from food and drinks that look unnaturally coloured.
Titanium dioxide
A research paper, “Titanium Dioxide nanoparticles in Food and Personal Care Products’ published in the journal “Environmental Science and Technology found that children are highly exposed to titanium dioxide which is found in a white food colour additive used in confectionery products.The highest content of titanium dioxide nanoparticles appeared in confectionary products and particularly in chewing gums.

WHAT PUBLIC HEALTH EXPERTS SAY:
Dr Javed Iqbal – prominent physician and columnist
Food safety, whether it concerns sweets and confectionaries or any other food items in J&K, is an unattended issue in the state.
Food safety regulations are almost non-existent. There is no system in place to check food quality. The government is not doing enough to regulate food supplies. No substantial studies or surveys have been conducted to address the issue. Health institutions are not working to this end either. No one can say with certainty if the candies and confectionery available in the market are fit for consumption or not.

Dr. M. M. A. Kamili, eminent physician
Without proper labels about composition and without chemical analysis, it would be highly irresponsible to say that these candies are safe for consumption. It can be presumed that they contain toxic elements, including carcinogens as there is nothing to suggest otherwise.
Where these are unlabelled candies coming from? Who are the manufacturers, are they licensed?
These questions need to be answered.
In the absence of proper chemical analysis facilities, the quality of food items by and large, being consumed in the state is questionable. The few labs that exist are outdated and need revamping.

Dr. Riyaz Ahmad Dagga, Spokesperson, Doctors’ Association of Kashmir
Sub-standard candies make children prone to many diseases. These candidates contain rapidly digested carbohydrates that cause rapid increase in blood sugar level, followed by rapid decrease in sugar level. Its consumption causes tooth decay, obesity and can also lead to type-2 diabetes in children.
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Sugar candies: What WHO says
In 2015, a new WHO guideline recommended adults and children reduce their daily intake of free sugars to less than 10% of their total energy intake. A further reduction to below 5% or roughly 25 grams (6 teaspoons) per day would provide additional health benefits.
What Government agencies, responsible for ensuring food safety, are doing
The Drugs & Food Control Organization J&K is the nodal agency responsible for ensuring food safety in Jammu & Kashmir. Besides, being responsible for ensuring compliance with the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940 and Rules, Cigarettes and other Tobacco products (Prohibition of Advertisement & Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and distribution) Act 2003, Drug Price Control Order, 1995; it is also responsible for ensuring enforcement of the Food Safety and Standard Act, 2006 and Rules and regulations, 2011.

What work it does to ensure food safety
Most of the government system is reactionary. Government officials we spoke to said that they act “swiftly” whenever there are complaints.
Official information accessed by ZT indicates that April 2017 to August 2017, Drugs and Food Controller Organisation, has lifted 643 samples from Kashmir division. Out of this number, 119 are said to have been found substandard or mis-branded or unsafe.
The total inspections conducted during this period are reported to be 5501, out of which 649 visits are said to have occurred to manufacturing units, 1128 inspections to wholesalers and distributors and 3633 inspections for retailers and hawkers.
Interestingly, the data of the Food and Drug Controller Organisation indicates that 130 prosecutions were initiated during this period (what is not clear is whether this number aligns with the number of substandard misbranded, unsafe products found in the market, which is 119).
Out of 130 prosecutions initiated 107 are of civil nature, while none is of criminal nature. Total number of cases decided by the court are 147 with penalties imposed on the same number of cases.
Shri Amar Singh, Legal Metrology Department, while talking to ZT said that it is mandatory according to the legal metrology act that date of manufacturing, date of expiry and quantity be mentioned on the product.
Asked what is being done to regulate markets and keep check on unscrupulous sales, he said, “We send market checking squads thrice a week to survey the markets and anyone in violation is booked. We also act on specific complaints received.”
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Have any follow-ups been done since May 2015 when J&K government assured J&K High Court for immediate action in ensuring food safety in the state?
In May 2015, J&K government admitted before the Jammu & Kashmir High Court that the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, has not been implemented in letter and spirit in the state, while assuring “immediate steps” for upgrade of the two outdated food-testing laboratories in Jammu and Srinagar.
This accompanied an assurance by the Chief Secretary in the open court that he would “immediately take review of all aspects” concerning implementation of the J&K Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006.