Anupama, who triggers Organic Food drive in Kerala

Crusade for an Organic & Healthy Kerala; Anupama TV IAS, Food safety Commissioner of Kerala

Ms. Anupama TV IAS, currently The Food Safety Commissioner of Kerala has recently hogged the limelight after she ordered a ban on the manufacture, storage, sale and distribution of three products -- coriander, turmeric and chilly -- of popular Nirapara brand as they were found to be adulterated with cheap starch powder. Soon after the news broke, reports suggested that she might be moved from her post as the commissioner of Food and Safety control as the spice powder company is very influential in Kerala and abroad.

But Anupama still continue as Food safety Commissioner along with her additional responsibility as Additional Director ( General) of Kerala Tourism Department. When a young IAS officer in Kerala took the powerful pesticide lobby and food adulterators head on, little did she knew that she was triggering a healthy food campaign across the state.

Actually she was opened a Pandora’s box when she conducted raids across the state and banned products of an established food brand citing that it contained alarming levels of non-permissible substances.

Thanks to the startling facts that the raids threw up, jolting Keralites into realising the need to have home-grown vegetables, the state that used to buy 70% of vegetables for consumption from neighbouring Tamil Nadu and Karnataka now produces 70% on its own. During the last Onam season, Kerala consumed majority of Vegetable cultivated in Kerala.

The state government pitched in by providing grow bags, seeds and saplings home-delivered free of cost. It also provided subsidy to install drip-irrigation facility and bio-gas plants in homes, paving way to a silent organic revolution of sorts.

“She is a bold and committed officer. Her continuous pursuit for safe food items has started yielding results,” said legislator VT Balram.

After taking over 18 months ago, Anupama conducted random checks in markets and checks posts and seized adulterated products. At least 6,000 samples were collected from various farms in a year and 750 cases were registered against defaulters. This awakened the conscience of people, who started growing vegetables without pesticides.

Ms.  Anupama, who came fourth in the Civil Services examination in 2009, is hailing from Panampad Maranchery, near Ponnani in Malappuram district, an engineering graduate from the Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS)-Pilani, Goa campus  in 2008.  Her schooling was at Vijayamatha Convent High School and St. Clair's Higher Secondary School.

She is the eldest daughter of K.K. Balasubramanyan, circle inspector of police who died in 2002, and T.V. Ramani, an assistant engineer with the Guruvayur Devaswom.  Her husband Mr. Clinston is an  IT Entrepreneur based in Kochi.  Nisha is her sibling.

She was started her civil service carrier as Assistant Collector, Kozhikode, then Sub Collector, Kasaragod and Sub Collector, Thalassery and also hold the position of Special Officer, Aralam Tribal Development Mission, before taking up her challenging carrier as Food safety Commissioner. Ms. Anupama had secured the third rank in the higher secondary examinations in 2004. She stood 13th in the SSLC examinations in 2002. Ms. Anupama opted for geography and Malayalam literature as her main subjects for the Civil Services. 

Grow your own vegetables’ for healthy tomorrow: An Interview with  Ms. Anupama TV IAS, Food safety Commissioner of Kerala

 

1.      Spices and the Malabar Coast were the first brands which permeated the name Kerala around the globe. Are we marketing the aforesaid effectively now days?

A new marketing campaign on spice route in collaboration with UNESCO is being planned. Spice route project covers both the aspects-Spices as well as Kerala coast. This will kick off in 2016-17.

 

2.      Do you think the commercialization of the food products and the emerging market of persevered foods ruined the very old food culture of Kerala, especially in past two decades? How hard it is to ensure the food safety standards in present scenario?

Food habits are indeed changing. But it has been so with all developing societies. It is also true that the culture of preserved food and packed food is bringing along with it more of chemicals and food additives. Though it is making the day to day chores easier, there are long term implications on health.

On the enforcement side, there are too many products and brands that there is an increased need for enforcement, sampling and analysis. As a baby department, we are still growing and exploring.

 

3.      After the recent reports on pesticide residues in vegetables supplied from our neighbouring states, your avowed intent to promote organic farming named ‘grow your own vegetables’ has got immense appreciation and acceptance. How far it can go?

Pesticide content above MRL even in a single sample makes it a criminal case. When it comes to vegetables, it’s a near-universal food. So more people will be affected. That’s the reason why Government started an increased surveillance and Food safety department served as a nodal agency. The ‘organic farming’ movement was a move by people of Kerala, based on all such steps by various Govt departments.

4.      Is our food safety law perfect enough to alleviate the present issues, if not, according to you, what are the amendments which should be made to make it feasible?

Standards shall be fixed for all food additives, all new generation contaminants shall be identified and listed under regulation. The act is quite new, so changes required will be revealed with time.

 

5.      In the wake of increasing instances of food adulteration, what are the new measures taken to intensify the food safety drive?

We are trying to introduce a foolproof surveillance system with better tracking, monitoring options. To support this we are focusing on introducing advanced technology in the laboratories.

 

6.      How can we ensure good manufacturing practices (GMP)?

Awareness among the Food business operators  (FBO) is the key. Demand from the consumers and monitoring by the department should also improve. We are including the GMP, GHP in our training modules for the officials as well as Food business operators.

 

7.      Do you think the people in Kerala are less aware about the relevance of health and safety? Are there any awareness programs in the pipe line to make them aware about the rights and responsibilities?

There is certain level of awareness at present. Since the act is a recent one, I would say the awareness isn’t perfect yet. We are already undertaking seminars, advertisements, school awareness programmes etc to improve this. You will see more of them in the coming days.

 

8.      What kind of synergy do you think; the government, food manufacturers and public must have regarding food safety?

Those are the three pillars on which food safety act, rules and regulations are built. I feel we are definitely moving towards a better synergy. But there is some level of resistance among the Food business operators in complying the standards and hygiene requirements. The department is also in the expanding mode; once we have full strength and infrastructure, we can involve more. There is quite a good public response these days. We hope to impart more details on food safety provisions to them in the coming days.

 

9.      Is there any plan to regulate and monitor street foods?

‘Safe food zone’ project is in the pipeline. We have just started survey in 2 districts-Kozhikode and Thrivunanthapuram.

 

10.  Could you brief the procedures /tests through which a food product should go for getting certified by the food safety authority? What are the essential rules a new comer in the food business need to know?(a brief check list-format)

Each product/parameter undergoes a different test. So there are 100-s of such tests. It can be of standard parameters, colour, additive, pesticide residue etc.

As far a new FBO is concerned, he has to obtain Food safety licence or Registration based on his scale of operation. Application is online and is mandatory. He shall also make sure that the food products manufactured/packed/distributed/transported/sold by him using this licence comply with the safety parameters, standards, labelling requirements mentioned in the act and regulations.

 

11.  About the banned food brands: What all will it take them to re-launch their products back in the market?

It depends on the reason for the ban, conditions in the ban order, their compliance of food safety standards etc.

 

12.  What is your future plans to guarantee quality food products for the consumers?

All the required surveillance, analysis are enlisted in the act itself. Our effort is to implement all of it in a systematic way. Technology is being used for reporting and decisions on failed food samples.

 

 

 

 
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