Last week, the ministry of Ayush and Food Safety & Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) announced safety and quality standards for food products under a new classification — Ayurveda Aahara. It is in line with the government’s aggressive push for globalising Ayurveda brand and Ayurvedic products. Recently the government inaugurated the World Health Organisation’s international centre for traditional systems of medicine and hosted a Global Ayush Investment and Innovation Summit.
The Food Safety and Standards (Ayurveda Aahara) Regulations Act 2022 is brought in to promote the manufacturing of quality Ayurveda food products and help expand the international market for make-in-India products. In addition, the ministry of Ayush hopes these regulations will further strengthen India’s global positioning as a custodian of the Ayurveda system.
The ministry of Ayush is independent of the ministry of health and family welfare and is responsible for developing education, research and propagation of indigenous and alternative medicine systems in India. Ayush is a name devised from the alternative healthcare systems covered by the ministry — Ayurveda, yoga, naturopathy, unani, siddha, and homeopathy. Though it is claimed to be promoting all the traditional systems of medicines under the ministry of Ayush, the push is mainly for the promotion of Ayurveda and Ayurvedic products.
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Food safety standards in India are in dire need of attention. Inappropriate agricultural practices, poor hygiene at all stages of the food chain, lack of preventive controls in food processing and operations, chemical misuse, polluted raw materials, ingredients, and water, insufficient or unsuitable storage, and poor food labelling standards are all matters of serious concern. The newly created Ayurveda Aahara category does not address most of these food safety issues.
Implications of Ayurveda Aahara label
A coding or categorisation system is required to group similar foods and report trends in consumption by food category. Foods and beverages can be classified in various ways, and no single classification system can fulfil the demands of all users. Therefore, to the extent practicable, any coding or categorisation system should be designed to meet the needs of people.
The food classification system makes it simple to report food consumption and nutrient intake trends. It also allows for reporting of food and nutrient intake statistics by food groups. Food classification systems frequently provide enough flexibility and access to detail to allow other users to work with food consumption data for various research and reporting purposes.
According to the FSSAI regulation, manufacturing and marketing of Ayurveda Aahara products are expected to adhere to the strict Food Safety and Standards of (Ayurveda Aahara) Regulations, 2022 and will be available in the market only after licence/approval from FSSAI. In addition, a special logo has also been created for the Ayurveda Aahara category, enabling easier identification and reinforcing the quality of Ayurveda food products. According to the Food Safety Act 2022, the Ayurveda Aahara means any food prepared following the recipes or ingredients or processes as per the method described in the authoritative books of Ayurveda listed under Schedule A of these regulations.
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Food is further defined under the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 (34 of 2006) and regulations: “Therefore, recipes and ingredients specified in the Schedule A the list of authoritative books for promoting health or meeting specific physiological needs, including those foods specified for consumption during or post selected diseases, disorders referred to as pathya in Ayurveda, are covered under these regulations.”
The adoption of the processes for cooking or preparation of Ayurveda Aahara specified or described in the authoritative books for industrial scale manufacture and packing is permitted. Such adoptions shall produce Ayurveda Aahara with quality and closely similar characteristics defined in the books mentioned under Schedule A of these regulations.
The regulation further adds — any packed food item used in day-to-day life for dietary purposes such as pulses, rice, flour, vegetables, and other foods specified under Food Safety and Standards Regulations shall not be covered under these regulations unless otherwise, they meet the provisions of these regulations. In addition, minimally processed food items involving cleaning, polishing, dehusking, and grading shall also not fall under these regulations. The Act further specifies that no person shall add vitamins, minerals and amino acids to Ayurveda Aahara.
The Ayurveda Aahara manufacturers are not supposed to promote it to treat human diseases. Therefore, the labelling, presentation and advertisement shall not claim that the Ayurveda Aahara has the property of preventing, treating or curing a human disease or referring to such properties. Moreover, an advisory warning ‘ONLY FOR DIETARY USE’ is prominently written on the package.
India’s Food Safety and Standards Authority is expected to constitute an expert committee consisting of relevant experts including representatives of India’s Food Safety and Standards Authority to give recommendations on the claims and products as specified in sub-regulation (9) and (10). In addition, the committee shall also empower to address concerns regarding registration or licensing or certification or laboratory accreditation or testing or quality issues related to Ayurveda Aahara.
Schedule B of the regulation 3 (1) lists the categories of Ayurveda Aahara and regulatory requirements. Accordingly, prior approval from the Food Authority is not required if the claim is as per authoritative Ayurveda texts listed in Schedule A. Table 2 of the Act presented the maximum permissible levels of contaminants — Lead 2.5 mg per kg or mg per L, copper 30 mg per kg or mg per L, arsenic 1.1 mg per kg or mg per L , tin, 250 mg per kg or mg per L, cadmium, 1.5 mg per kg or mg per L and mercury, 1.0 mg per kg or mg per L.
Schedule A of the regulation presented a list of 71 books as a list of authoritative books for the source of Ayurveda Aahara. Therefore, the Ingredients and recipes listed in the authoritative books and those authoritative texts published before 1940 shall be considered by the Food Authority for approval as Ayurveda Aahara. However, no details of authorship or publisher are given, along with the list of books presented in the Food Safety and Standards (Ayurveda Aahara) Regulations, 2022. The serial number 12 is listed as Bangasena. However, according to Wikipedia, Bangasena is a separatist Hindu organisation which advocates the formation of a Bangabhumi for Bengali Hindus in Bangladesh.
The labelling of Ayurveda Aahara shall specify the intended purpose, the target consumer group, recommended duration of use and other specific requirements. Health claims and disease risk reduction claims for the different categories of Ayurveda Aahara and their approval process shall follow the requirements specified in regulations. However, Ayurveda Aahara will not include Ayurvedic drugs or proprietary medicines and medicinal products, cosmetics, narcotic or psychotropic substances and herbs. Further, Ayurveda Aahara is not recommended for young children below two years.
While the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) created the category, there was an opportunity to develop a robust food classification such as the NOVA classification. NOVA helps people group foods according to the extent and purpose of the processing they undergo. As identified by NOVA, food processing involves physical, biological and chemical processes that occur after foods are separated from nature and before they are consumed or used to prepare dishes and meals.
Ayurvedic medicines have been used since ancient times to treat various diseases. However, the contribution of the Ayurvedic medical system to global health promotion is poor due to a lack of quality control and standardisation measures. In addition, there is a lack of common standards and appropriate methods for evaluating Traditional Medicines to ensure safety, efficacy and quality control.
The FASSI has listed 71 books as a list of books for Ayurveda Aahara. However, by doing so, they have squandered an opportunity to develop a much-needed classification of Ayurvedic products based on reliability. There is no reliability or validity of prosecutions because they are listed in books published in 1940 and considered by the Food Authority for approval as Ayurveda Aahara. Baidyanath group, Dabur India, Zandu Ayurveda, Charak Pharma, Hamdard Laboratories New Delhi, Patanjali Ayurved, Wilson Drugs, Shree Dhootapapeshwar, Sandu Pharmaceuticals, and Himalaya Wellness are the top 10 companies that are likely to benefit from the classification.
The Food Safety and Standards Act 2006 consolidated the laws relating to food. It established the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India to lay down science-based standards for food articles and regulate their manufacture, storage, distribution, sale, and import to ensure the availability of safe and wholesome food for human consumption. The foremost responsibility of FSSAI is the development of science-based food standards for articles of food and food products and to regulate their manufacture, storage, distribution, sale and import to ensure the availability of safe and wholesome food for human consumption.
According to WHO (2022), access to sufficient safe and nutritious food is critical for sustaining life and fostering good health. More than 200 diseases, ranging from diarrhoea to cancer, are caused by contaminated food carrying hazardous bacteria, viruses, parasites, or chemical compounds.
Every year, an estimated 600 million individuals – about one in 10 people on the planet – become unwell after eating contaminated food and 420 000 people die causing a loss of 33 million healthy life years (DALYs). Each year, hazardous food costs low- and middle-income countries $110 billion in lost productivity and medical expenses. In addition, foodborne sickness affects 40% of children under the age of five, resulting in 125 000 fatalities each year.
The new classification presents a major challenge to food sovereignty by ignoring the quality and safety of food. Food sovereignty is “the right of people to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their food and agriculture systems”. (Wittman, 2011) Based on the International Forum for Food Sovereignty (2007) deliberations, seven pillars of food sovereignty were proposed.
Food sovereignty focuses on food for people, builds knowledge and skills, works with nature, appreciates food suppliers, localises food systems, places control locally, and allows food to be treated as sacred. The underlying idea is the recognition that food is a gift of life and is not to be squandered or commodified.
Government of India. MINISTRY OF LAW AND JUSTICE (Legislative Department) New Delhi, the 24th August 2006. Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006.
Monteiro CA (2009). Nutrition and health. The issue is not food nor nutrients, so much as processing. Public Health Nutrition 2009, 12, 5, 729-731.
Forum for Food Sovereignty (2007) Declaration of the forum for food sovereignty. Nyéléni, Sélingué, Mali.
Hannah Wittman (2011) Food Sovereignty: A New Rights Framework for Food and Nature? Environment and Society
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Dr Joe Thomas is Professor of Public Health, Institute of Health and Management, Victoria, Australia. Opinions are personal.