No Staff, No Tech at State’s Four Food Safety Labs


BENGALURU: The four regional government labs in Karnataka are ill-equipped and understaffed to test whether your food is safe.
According to sources in the Public Health Institute (PHI), Government of Karnataka, the labs in Bengaluru, Mysuru, Belagavi and Kalaburagi are not equipped to test for pesticide residues and heavy metals in food items like vegetables, fruits and other food grains. They can only conduct basic tests for adulteration in food, water, oil and milk.

The reason is not far to seek. With 60 per cent shortage in human resource, the state is managing the scene with only 40 per cent staff. Each lab has one chief food analyst, food analyst, senior food analyst, microbiologist, lab technicians and ‘D’ group employees. Two food analysts from PHI — one each to Mysuru and Belagavi — were deputed recently as the posts were lying vacant.

Although the Food Safety and Standards Act came into effect in August 2011, the state is still dependent on NABL-accredited six private food testing labs for checking the toxic content in food items. NABL stands for National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories.

A PHI officer said they do random checking at their labs, besides receiving samples from public. “We are creating awareness in vendors on food adulteration and adding artificial colours to food items and its impact on the health,” he said.

In Karnataka, of the 5,863 samples collected in 2013, 2014 and the first six months of 2015, the number of samples found unsafe is 248, sub-standard 154 and mis-branded 272, according to PHI. Only in one case, two persons were convicted in the last four years for adding artificial colour to toor dal.

P S Vastrad, Commissioner, Department of Health and Family Welfare, was not available for comment.

Upgradation on Cards:

The state government has proposed to upgrade the existing labs. They will be housed in the new building which is under construction in the Public Health Institute premises at K R Circle in Bengaluru. “Recently we received new equipment to check micro toxins, antibiotic contents in food samples. It will be commissioned soon. If all new units are upgraded, we can do sophisticated tests,” he said.

Health Risks

Youths and women are at risk if heavy content of pesticide like chlorpyrifos is present in egg, milk, red meat and other animal products. It can lead to cancer or neurological problem. In case of heavy dose of ethion in food items, fertility problem, loss of bladder control, blurring or dimness of vision, muscle tremors and laboured breathing can be experienced in the long term. Dr Roopa Deepthi, clinical dietitian, Bengaluru Medical College and Research Institute.

CM Convenes Meet

Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has convened a meeting on Tuesday to review the working of the Public Health Institute (PHI) in the wake of the Centre releasing data on pesticide residues in food items, a PHI officer said