Friday January 21, 2022

PFA keeping strict eye on food processors

May 29, 2018

LAHORE: Punjab Food Authority (PFA) has emerged as a responsible and competent regulator in the country earning the ire of domestic and multinational food processors that criticised its regulations on technical ground but could not find fault in content. The News interviewed its head Noorul Ameen Mengal in this regard. Here are excerpts of what he said.

Q: Why the PFA is at odd with the food processors?

A: We introduced regulations to create awareness about the manufactured food products available in the market so that the consumer is aware what he/she is eating. We banned sale of carbonated beverages in schools, in line with the practice prevalent in economies where some multinationals have their headquarters. They abide by this rule in their own countries, why should they feel hurt in Pakistan. They did get a hit in Pakistan because they sold carbonated beverages worth Rs50 billion in schools. This accounts for 27 percent of their total sales. Now flavoured milk products and juices are allowed. Children have the right to consume healthy food. The PFA is ensuring that this regulation is strictly obeyed.

Q: Some food processors say that your regulations are different from Pakistan Standards and Quality Control Authority (PQSCA) the national food regulator?

A: Let me tell you that our regulations and laws are 99.999 percent in conformity with the food laws promulgated by PQSCA. The minor changes are meant to ensure food safety for our citizen. Moreover, after the passage of 18th amendment, food security and food regulations have come under the domain of provincial governments and we have exercised that right. We also think that PQSCA, which regulates all other standards besides food does not have the capability and capacity to ensure that food laws are complied with. The PFA has built that capability and we conduct 5,000 raids daily across Punjab. This is the reason that we have been able (to) apprehend thousands of operators that were violating the regulations of PQSCA. The federal regulator did not have the capacity to stop violations not only in food but in other fields like equipments, machinery and natural gas gadgets. Finally PQSCA is very lenient in approving food products that are harmful.

Q: Can you name few?

A: Take for instance the case of dairy drinks introduced by few milk processors. The product was introduced in the market first and the approval was granted by PQSCA afterwards. We have banned these drinks in Punjab because the product is diluted dairy drink that besides higher water content is adulterated with vegetable fat. If we allow these drinks produced by large milk processors then we have no moral authority to take action against those gawalas that sell loose milk. These processors have been given a cut-off date of December 31, 2018 after which these drinks would be taken out of markets in Punjab.

The boiling point of the hyrogenated oil to make ghee was fixed at 38 degree centigrade by PQSA that is higher than human body temperature. We have reduced it to 37 degree centigrade. Moreover, we have informed the ghee manufacturers to stop hydrogenation in three years after which only edible oil will be produced. This would eliminate the use of hard palm oil. The manufacturers would have to use soft oils in their edible oil preparations. All oil and ghee products are now required to add vitamins A and D in their products and PFA ensures it that they do.

Q: How do you manage better compliance in the province?

A: We have circulated the regulations and our main deterrence is to destroy the whole lot at the manufacturing facility if it is not 100 percent up to the PFA standards. There is no leniency in this regard and producers suffer immense losses. Knowing this fact they try to be fully compliant as raids are abrupt and quick. We have destroyed thousands of litres of edible oil where the required vitamins were missing. We do the same with gawalas who sell loose milk. There are 850 salt processors that market packed salt throughout Pakistan and they have to add iodine in their packs.

Q: Do you emphasise more on raids for compliance?

A: No you would be surprised that raid constitutes only five percent of our operation. We are reforming industries and providing them skilled workforce, well aware of food safety procedures through our dedicated schools. Awareness among consumers is our other main objective and we are soon launching 8 FM radios around Punjab in this regard. The labelling on all packed food products, now has to be compulsorily in Urdu (along with English) even for imported products so that consumers know about warnings and precautions.