The Maggi controversy is spilling over. The central food safety regulator FSSAI has recently asked state food regulators to test all packaged food items across the country. There are more products that are found unsafe in the process, and more might follow.
Market analyser Nomura has predicted these moments to be a possible stepping stone in the evolution of the country's packaged and processed food industry to strive for better standards.But India is only slowly waking up to a situation of more recalls. FSSAI came up with a draft food recall procedure only around two weeks ago, though the effort for such a framework has been going on for many years.
The new draft regulatory procedures have been published on May 29 on the FSSAI website to invite comments from the public till August. A similar effort was done by FSSAI in 2011, but never notified.
“FSSAI has given us only broad guidelines, nothing specific,” said Luca Fichera, EVP Supply chain, Nestle India, on the recall of Maggi from an estimated 3.5 million outlets -- a mammoth task considering that Nestle has track of barely half of this. He clarified that Nestle’s Maggi recall is a completely in-house exercise and has nothing to do with any provision in the proposed framework.
If we look at the US, where around 121 food products, involoving 51 companies, were recalled in the first three months of 2015 alone, the regulator FDA has the responsibility to order for a recall, issue public warnings, and monitor and audit the recall to ensure the effectiveness via a centralised database.
It also directly assists the firms in the activity, if they are not able to track the products on their own.The “multiplier effect” -- a situation in which one notable recall effort expanding to other products, manufactures, other geographic locations, and regulatory bodies-- is also seen in the US, the Stricycle Recall Index that tracks recalls in the US shows.
The number of food product recall in the first quater was 19.4 million in 2015 –a 40% increase from the previous quarter – compared to the average recalls of 7.4 million units a year during 2012-2014, it shows.
The Indian regulator FSSAI in 2011 came up with a Product Recall Pilot aimed at coordinating the producers, retailers and the agency for improving efficiency of recalls. It had aimed at overcoming the defects of the internal product recall system.
But no follow ups were done, it seems. FSSAI did not reply to an e-mail from HT.In India, shortage and inadequate training of staff in the regulators, absence of a tracking technology to monitor the movements of the products from the factories to the retailers, and absence of a single law to deal with the recall instances would affect the effectiveness of the recalls.
The Ministry of Food Processing Industries estimates the size of the processed food market in India to be over $100 billion and expects it to grow further at a healthy rate. The safety aspects of the processed the sector assumes great importance in this way too.