The Punjab Food Safety and Standard Authority (PFSSA) is to become functional in June, though at a far smaller scale than envisioned earlier in terms of manpower and finances.
PFSSA Director General Muhammad Asad Islam Mahani told The Express Tribune that the Local Government Department would soon issue a notification after which the authority would start hiring officials on deputation.
Under the PFSSA Act passed by the Punjab Assembly in June 2011, the government was to set up an authority to monitor the manufacturing, distribution, storage, sale and import of food. The authority would take over the functions of the District Food departments.
However, the task has proved a difficult one. PFSSA officials had said at the start of the year that the authority would take charge in Lahore in February and in four other districts – Multan, Gujranwala, Faisalabad and Rawalpindi – by the end of the financial year. It would then be extended to the rest of the districts in the province.
Now the plan is to start in Lahore by the end of the financial year, but even then the authority will not be fully staffed. Mahani said that the authority had advertised for food safety officers, with one to be hired for each town of Lahore to oversee regulation efforts. The act envisages teams of one food safety officer and two food inspectors in each town.
Currently, the District Food department has nine inspectors, one for each town. The director general said that these inspectors would be included in the PFSSA and the act would be amended to temporarily give them the powers of food safety officers.
The authority has found it hard to come by candidates with the required qualifications (master’s degree in a relevant subject) for food safety officers. Further, it is unclear how the food inspectors will react to being asked to work under a newly recruited food safety officer.
Back in January, Mahani had told The Express Tribune that he had asked the Punjab government for Rs400 million to hire new officers and build modern labs in order to set up the authority. Instead, it was allocated Rs26.9 million for the year ending in June.
Mahani said that because of a lack of funds, the authority had for now given up the idea of setting up a prosecution wing to pursue legal cases against violators of food safety rules.
The act envisages far heavier fines (up to Rs1 million) and prison terms (up to six months) than the previous law and officials wishing to remain anonymous questioned how these would be enforced.
Mahani said that the heavy penalties were not meant to be a source of revenue for the authority, but to act as a deterrent.
Despite the difficulties, he said he was confident that the new authority would make a difference in food regulation. “You will see a major change right from the start as the authority will educate people about the consequences of not following safety standards. We will emphasise community development and keep a close liaison with the public and manufacturers. We will also conduct food safety workshops,” he said.
Meanwhile, the rest of Punjab will continue to operate under the old food rules and under district food departments. The director general did not say when the PFSSA would become functional in other districts.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 9th, 2012.