FSSAI’s law on labelling of imported foods continues to impact businesses of importers, grocers and restaurateurs as they grapple with the revenue losses due to consignments of food products and raw material being held up at various entry points such as shipping and airports, and awaiting clearance. Containers include products such as food ingredients, cooking oils, packaged food, pulses, processed foods, biscuits, frozen foods, seafood, vegetables, herbs, cheese, meat and sauces, estimated to be worth hundreds of crores. Moreover, there is a shortage of proper storage facilities at the ports, especially for items requiring cold storage. According to industry sources, 350 containers of fruits were stuck at different ports for the last two months and have rotted due to inadequate infrastructure. The Food Processing industry needs many ingrediants and intermediaries such as gluten, potato pellets, cocoa powder, spices and herbs, but these have been blocked by FSSAI due to their stringent product approval process. The processing industry has lost more than Rs 15,000 crore due to this.
The delay is also because several lots lack adequate information about the products, as mandated by FSSAI. As per the food regulator’s norms, manufacturers of packaged food items must, amongst other things, list the contents in English on the labelling, which must mention the ingredients used and their nutritional values. The producer’s name, address and country of origin must also be mentioned, and in the format prescribed by FSSAI. FSSAI also insists that importers should not use stickers indicating details such as product type, price and nutritional value, and the manufacturing / producing company must print the product details on the packs that are to be shipped to India.
Besides labelling, there are issues such as 100% sampling of containers of imported goods coming into the country, which leads to huge delays in clearance. There are delays in product approvals from FSSAI, which is clearing just 8 to 10 applications in a day, even as a backlog of over 11,000 applications await approval. Many restaurants have resorted to raising their prices by 30-40%. Restaurateurs that serve international dishes such as French, Japanese, etc, are specially affected becaus they use only imported raw materials (which cannot be replaced by Indian substitutes) so as to give authentic taste to their dishes. Prices of imported raw food materials have gone up by 30 to 40% due to the fluctuating dollar prices and shortages of ingredients due to delays in clearance at the ports. There is shortage of certain sauces and condiments, high quality lamb and fish. The average duty levied on food imports is as high as 50 to 60%. Detaining consignments at ports is affecting trade adversely, and forcing many importers to consider other business options. About 18 importers, unable to incur losses in sales, have shut shop. The Forum of Indian Food Importers (with over 400 members), has been making numerous representations to FSSAI to resolve the issues as soon as possible. The members feel that though they are aware of the regulations that have to be complied with, they should be kept informed about them as different countries have different regulatory requirements. Also, the regulations should be framed based on their feasibility, and FSSAI should clarify some regulations, and importers should be given time to implement the norms.
Many products such as fruits, olives, beer, wine, spirits, chocolates, fresh meat, seafood, pasta-sauce, mayonnaise, candy, juices, chips, spices, soymilk, etc, have faced FSSAI’s labelling orders. Recently, it was the importers of Canola oil who were asked by the regulator not to import the edible oil under the brand name, and insisted that every container of Canola oil be labelled ‘imported rapeseed-low erucic acid oil’, and importers should print an ingredient list with ‘edible vegetable oil’ (not Canola oil) and include it in the label, as reported by TNN.
Importers say it would be difficult for them to sell Canola oil with the label stating imported rapeseed-low erucic acid oil, as there are several
examples in the Codex standards of edible oil, where the biological and technical term is different from the one used in the country. For example, Arachis oil (peanut oil, ground nut oil) is labelled groundnut oil. In a letter to FSSAI, FIFI has stated that “the term rapeseed oil, however, is most commonly associated with high erucic acid version. We would also like to add that Canola oil is not a term coined by importers to import cheap rapeseed oil and mislead the consumer by terming it Canola oil to make abnormal profits by giving it a fancy name.” According to FIFI, FSSAI’s insistence to follow the technical term alone, when the principle is not applied to any other oil, is discriminatory, severe and unjustified. FSSAI has not made any apparent move to revise the order, and the stand-off has proved costly for importers as hundreds of containers of Canola oil have been detained across various ports, and they will incur heavy damages if the containers are not cleared soon as the product comes with an expiry date. FIFI has pointed out that Canola oil has been imported and sold in India since 2007 and is one of the largest selling oils in several countries, including US, Canada, Mexico, Australia, Japan,
China and Pakistan. Protesting FIFI members state that FSSAI has been reprimanded by the Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkatta High Courts for bringing the F&B trade to a halt without having the powers in their Act. On the flip side, FSSAI’s move to enforce labeling standards is aimed at deterring poor quality or expired products being dumped in India, and to enforce some accountability.