The imported food business in India grew by 27 per cent in FY 2013-14, says Amit Lohani, Convenor Forum of Indian Food Importers, adding that the fastest growing categories in the Indian food industry in the same period were health foods (including healthy oils), snacks and confectionery.
Speaking at a business meet with foreign trade officials and trade spokespersons from several foreign embassies in New Delhi on November 19th, Lohani noted that while the opportunities in India for foreign foods continue to be immense, ambiguities in the regulations laid down by Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) have been acting as deterrents in the supply mechanism.
“The Food Safety and Standards Act has several loopholes and confusing directives on labelling, which is enabling officials down the chain to harass importers and delay shipments for flawed reasons. On a macro level, some of these unreasonable regulations are impeding the growth of the category itself,” he pointed out.
“For instance, the Act contains guidelines for corned beef, which is banned for import, and not even produced in India. On the other hand, the Act has no guidelines for a product like mayonnaise, which is manufactured in India,” Lohani added, referring to some of the conflicting regulations laid out by FSSAI.
The Food Safety and Standards Act was legislated in 2006 with the intention of bringing the provisions of seven-odd central acts, beginning with the antiquated Prevention of Food Adulteration (PFA) Act of 1995, under one comprehensive, contemporary legal umbrella.
Incepted by the previous government, it was welcomed by all as a salutary initiative, but the mood changed once the rules came into effect in 2011. Among the major criticism of the Act is that its rules are based on the list of 355 edible food products recognised by the PFA Act of 1955. However, the Codex Alimentarius, the Bible of food standards prepared jointly and updated continually by the World Health Organisation and the Food & Agriculture Organisation, lists more than 3,500 categories of edible food products.
With a new government at the helm, Lohani however was hopeful that some degree of rationalisation and simplification of the FSSA would come into effect.”The Prime Minister’s Office has shown a positive orientation towards bringing in greater clarity into some of the ambiguities. For instance, import clearances at some ports in India have already been eased, and we are hopeful of further support,” he said.