FSSAI Now Has A Global Benchmark For Food Quality

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The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) was established to regulate food standards – everything from manufacture, storage, distribution, sale and import – and improve the country’s notoriously lax approach to food hygiene and adulteration.

As India’s top food safety authority, the FSSAI has the last word on what can be sold on store shelves. How it sets and enforces standards has been the subject of much debate in the scientific, health and business communities.

Recently, Union Minister of Food Processing Industries, Harsimrat Kaur Badal, called out the FSSAI’s rules and so-called inspector raj practices for being outdated, according to news reports.

As a relatively young body, FSSAI does not have standards for foods in all categories. It has taken steps to bring its food safety research and quality assurance up to international standards in terms of setting guidelines and best regulatory practices.

In the latest legal news, FSSAI announced a tied up with Decernis Ltd. to access a database of more than 70,000 global food standards and regulations. Decernis is a US-based provider of regulatory expertise and intelligence on food, consumer and industrial product safety.

This database contains standards for food additives, contaminants and other food products sourced from more than 170 countries. The body will offer training sessions for employees to better assess risk and compliance and generally bring Indian standards in line with international levels.

Impact on FMCG industry

The FSSAI and FMCG industry have clashed in the past over food quality and the authority’s power to levy fines and deny approval to products, most famously in 2015 over the temporary withdrawal and ban on Nestle India Ltd.’s Maggi noodles.

The body is working on new food labelling regulations for foods high in salt, sugar and trans fats, as well as defining junk food. To disincentivize the purchase of junk food, the authority has suggested banning junk food advertisements on entertainment targeting children.

It has proposed imposing a so-called fat tax on packaged and processed foods and sweetened drinks.

Not surprisingly, FMCG majors such as ITC Ltd., Nestle and Dabur Ltd. are up in arms over the idea, saying consumers who choose to spend extra for the pleasure of junk food will continue to do so. They say companies will have to pass on the cost of any tax to consumers and this will eventually hurt their bottom line.

But in recent share market news, a spokesperson for Hindustan Unilever Ltd. said the company supported the FSSAI’s attempts to promote safe and nutritious food and that FMCG companies had a responsibility to contribute to the cause.

While the question of food safety is viewed differently by the regulator and FMCG sector, the FSSAI has managed to secure co-operation from the industry on some issues.

To address prevalent malnutrition and undernutrition in India, the regulator ordered brands such as ITC, Patanjali Ayurved Ltd. and HUL to begin fortifying wheat flour with vitamin B-12, folic acid and iron. It also said all major edible oil manufacturers and processors will begin fortifying cooking oil with vitamins within the next few months.

Other FMCG companies such as Coca-Cola India Pvt. Ltd. and Mondelez India Foods Pvt. Ltd. have joined hands with the body to train street food vendors and provide safe food to underprivileged schools in Delhi, respectively.

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