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Robustly Regulated Food Industry is Imperative for Ensuring Food Safety: Ashish Bahuguna, Former Chairman of FSSAI

To combat misinformation and fake news in the agricultural domain, the launch of 'Agri Check' took center stage in New Delhi on World Food Safety Day. The event witnessed industry stalwarts convening to share their expertise and pave the way for a new era of steadfast agricultural information.

Mrini Devnani
Ashish Bahuguna, Former Chairman of FSSAI at the event
Ashish Bahuguna, Former Chairman of FSSAI at the event

In a room brimming with anticipation and enthusiasm, industry veterans gathered to witness the launch of 'AgriCheck' – a pioneering initiative set to redefine the narrative surrounding agricultural integrity. In the buzz of anticipation, the air was charged with a palpable sense of purpose and determination in New Delhi on June 7, 2024.

The inaugural of 'AgriCheck,' was spearheaded by the esteemed Agriculture Journalist Association of India (AJAI). Coinciding with World Food Safety Day today, the event marked a significant stride toward fighting misinformation and fostering transparency in the agricultural sector. As part of the program, the journey and mission of AJAI was showcased through an introductory video.

Dr RG Agarwal, Group Chairman of Dhanuka Agritech Limited sharing his thoughts at the event
Dr RG Agarwal, Group Chairman of Dhanuka Agritech Limited sharing his thoughts at the event

On the occasion, Dr RG Agarwal, Group Chairman of Dhanuka Agritech Limited, said “I would like to congratulate Mr Dominic and his team for choosing this theme. I have been at it for several years. On the big day, I would like to mention that our country’s farmers are working hard. Despite that, our GDP is one-third of China's. The reason why our farmers are not progressing is the lack of knowledge sources. Thus, four things are important for farmers’ welfare: soil health, technology, price, and inputs for understanding the right quality of agricultural products.”

As part of the program, Ashish Bahuguna, Former Chairman of FSSAI and the Chief Guest of the day, expressed, “Fake news about agriculture impacts food safety. The base of this is the quality of raw material and then the processing and packaging.”

He continued, “Generally it is believed that what our forefathers ate is the right diet and we should follow that to maintain good health. In my view, we need to revisit this. Obesity and malnutrition are two pressing issues we face today. And, we are yet not self-sufficient in nutritional security. Every year, what we produce, takes out more nutrients from the soil than replenishing. Every land is plowed repeatedly and this takes away the nutrients from the soil. Thus, we need to give out the right knowledge.

He recommended certain dos and don'ts for the consumers which can help in purchase decisions. He also highlighted that if the food industry becomes more formalized, it will ensure safety. “A much greater focus is needed to educate consumers to read the labels and packaging appropriately.” Besides, he also launched the AgriCheck website on the big day.

MC Dominic, Founder, and President of AJAI said, “I am excited to have veterans from FSSAI today. We have a lot of misinformation, especially in rural areas for the right information. If something goes wrong, it reaches the entire system. Thus, we must start training the farmers. Whatever happens in agri-domain should be in the public domain. I am confident that this platform will become important for the farming community. Let’s put it into a reality.”

Guest of Honor, G Kamala Vardhana Rao, CEO, FSSAI highlighted how India and other countries have rejected food materials exported and explained the causes for it, focusing on the recent “ban” on Indian spices. He helped bust several recent occurrences and misinformation and explained the facts to the audience.

Raju Kapoor, Director of Corporate Affairs, FMC Corporation speaking at the session
Raju Kapoor, Director of Corporate Affairs, FMC Corporation speaking at the session

Raju Kapoor, Director of Corporate Affairs, FMC Corporation said, “There is a deluge of information. And, we are often searching for truth in a heap of false. The introduction of Generative AI and its ability to curate angled truth or a distorted version of it, is prevalent. Besides, amplification and the power of social media is a big point that’s very critical. We must bear in mind that any space left open is filled with something else. Thus, there is a high level of sensitivity and vulnerability; the farming lot is vulnerable. Considering this, regulators need to be highly communicative and we should be objective, responsible, and accountable. Moreover, we need a platform that can accept, validate, cross-check, and revert. My advice is to leverage the digital technology.”

Dr SK Malhotra, VC, Maharana Pratap Horticultural University, Karnal, Haryana was also the Guest of Honor for the program. He emphasized that AgriCheck and FactCheck are very important currently. Following this, Dr Praveen Malik, CEO of Agrinnovate India Ltd., spoke about the spread of misinformation and fake news. “Agri stakeholders need support to be able to navigate through the spread of fake news. As farmers cannot suspect it, news must go in the right perspective.”

Next, Lena Johansson, President of IFAJ said, “As a media consumer, be careful and have the knowledge to judge what is reliable. Many want to spread fake news or misinformation. So, trust the reliable source and be critical. Our mission is to enhance agri-journalism and support international colleagues so that they can independently see through the facts.”

Laxmi Devi, Assistant Editor, PTI said, “This issue threatens the hard work and life of farmers. Misinformation can spread via social media channels like WhatsApp and Facebook. A single fake image can go viral in a matter of hours and it is dangerous for the agricultural field. It creates misunderstanding and tension. It can impact farmers who may end up using banned products. The same can further poison land and lead people to lose trust.”

She continued, “We need cooperation and smart solutions. We should educate farmers via simple and effective training programs. Even call centers can be set up to help farmers. With this, effective communication campaigns to counter the fear and misinformation using local languages can be a powerful tool.”

Kamal Somani, Managing Director, Somani Kanak Seedz sharing his views
Kamal Somani, Managing Director, Somani Kanak Seedz sharing his views

Interestingly, Kamal Somani, Managing Director, Somani Kanak Seedz highlighted that farmers need the necessary knowledge and support to be able to discern the fact from the fiction. Rajaram Tripathi, CEO of Maa Danteshwari Herbal Products Limited said, “I congratulate all, including Mr Dominic and his team. Most farmers go by the advertisements and believe it to be true. Thus, such a platform is vital. I suggest we must stay connected with farmers, stakeholders, journalists who need to work together.”

Dr KML Pathak, Former VC, DDU, University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences, Mathura, stated, “Post COVID-19, be it poor or rich, food safety has become important for all. Every person wants to eat safe and quality food.” He further helped debunk common myths regarding animals and food items. Besides, Anil Jauhri, ex-CEO of NABCB, stressed the need for credibility on food products that affect one and all.

Ganesan Arunasalam, Founder and Director of Nature Farms at Wild Eden Organic Farms Private Limited discussed various myths associated with exotic veggies from Southern India. Shatarupa Kashyap, Director of Agriculture and Livelihood Practices, GFSI shared, “Congratulations to AJAI! I represent the Grameen Foundation which helps small-holding farmers and supports them with the right information at the right time. Fake news and misinformation are like viruses – they spread rapidly. We must work collaboratively.”

Next, Ricky Thaper, Treasurer of the Poultry Federation of India stated, “To track and train all the stakeholders is critical in the farming chain.” Dr Anup Kalra, CEO (ARF) Ayurvet stated, “Agriculture is a huge sector and it contributes to the economy in a big way. Fisheries, Livestock, and Poultry need attention too.”

Finally, Prof Moni Madaswamy, Former DG, NIC urged for a safer future for the farming community. The day concluded with a Vote of Thanks.

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