Just 16% food adulterators were convicted in the state over the past two years even though there has been a rise in the number of complaints of contaminated food in the market.
Statistics from Tamil Nadu food safety department shows it collected 3,531 food samples from across the state since 2013 and found 1,308 (37%) to be unsafe, substandard or misbranded. However, the department has succeeded in proving only 219 cases in court. In 2014-15 alone, food items like salt (177 samples), oil (169) and cereals (147) failed in quality tests conducted by the department.
While food safety officials say they collected fines of Rs 40.69 lakh from violators over the past two years, consumer activists say most food adulterators go scot free after paying a meagre fine. “The low conviction rate is disturbing,” said Consumer Association of India representative G Santhanarajan. “Hazardous chemicals in food items pose severe health risks, including cancers, but there are no efforts to punish violators. Consumers have become more aware after the Maggi saga.”
There has been an increase in the number of food samples tested by the department: 658 in 2013-14 to 2,873 in 2014-15.This is mainly because more customers have lodged complaints.
In Chennai, there are only 25 food safety officers (FSOs) to monitor more than 70,000 food businesses. According to Food Safety and Standards Act, each FSO has to collect at least four food samples every month, but an FSO in Chennai collects only one sample per month. This means the department collects an average of 300 samples a year.
Officials say they take random samples and conduct inspections based on complaints. “Many cases are pending before the courts, which delay the conviction of violators. In some cases, they find loopholes in the cases and get away,” said an official.