From Swiss chocolates to premium whiskies, from canola oil to non-alcoholic beverages — food products worth Rs 25,000 crore are stuck in India’s various ports or being re-exported because of what the industry calls as arbitrary regulatory scrutiny.
According to food importers, the Food Safety Standard Authority’s (FSSAI’s) insistence on scrutinising every detail including labels and logos with minor changes before allowing the products to enter India have affected supplies of many marquee brands including premium alcoholic brands and chocolates, even though these are compliant with Codex — the global standard for food products.
Following the recall of major consignments from India by a few global companies including a leading Japanese alcoholic drink brand and a marquee European chocolate brand, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) convened an inter-ministerial meeting of the ministries of food processing industry and health to hammer out a solution to the problem that is being increasingly seen as anti-business.
“India cannot afford to be seen as anti-business,” Harsimrat Kaur Badal, food processing minister, told HT. “We have inherited this from the UPA. This is somewhat reminiscent of licence permit raj, which is hurting new enterprise. It is an inter-ministerial issue and we are solving this at the earliest with the intervention of the PMO,” the minister said.
FSSAI is a body mandated to regulate and ensure safe unadulterated food, both for imports and domestic producers.
Food importers and domestic producers, however, point out that the FSSAI has not harmonised the product standardisation process with global Codex parametres leading to arbitrary advisories in the name of approving products.
K Chandramouli, FSSAI chairman, refused to comment.
“There should be regulations and rules, but these should not be arbitrary,” Badal said.
“Since December 2013, containers of Canola oil have been detained at various ports on the instructions of food safety officers on grounds that every container of canola oil must bear the marking ‘imported rapeseed — low erucic acid oil,” said Amit Lohani, convenor of the Forum of Indian Food Importers (FIFI).
“In another instance, a leading European chocolate manufacturer had sent back its consignment from Indian ports after FSSAI ruled that stickered labeling of ingredients was not acceptable,” Lohani said.
According to Lohani, items stuck at ports include apples, olive oil, canola oil, beer, wine, spirits, seafood, mayonnaise and juices among others.
Importers and domestic processed food producers said that product approval by the FSSAI is required even for those that have been produced, imported or sold in India for many years and which are already compliant with international Codex standards.
Approval is required to be taken separately by different manufacturers wanting to produce a product with same ingredients and additives but with minor modifications.
“Food processing has to play a much larger role to move food from farms to homes. We have to produce more from less for more. We need to minimise the post-harvest losses,” Badal said.