Food safety has suddenly become a focal point of conversation among the government, media and consumers, thanks to the Maggi controversy. While the government is mulling about bringing in stricter measures to make the matter of food safety above board, it is also looking to do way with the extra regulatory baggage, which has prevented scores of food importers from delivering products to the retail shops. In this context, the news report in The Economic Times on the government’s decision to do away with the practice of putting each imported food consignment through lab checks and instead switch to the international norm of random and risk-based inspections, has been widely welcomed and cheered by the industry.
“The industry welcomes this long overdue gesture by the Government,” beamed Amit Lohani, Convener of FIFI (Forum of Indian Food Importers). According to Lohani, India’s food industry is facing various challenges on the regulatory front, which is hampering its growth and progress. “The single window clearance has not seen the light of the day and industry need more than 8 licenses to start a food business in India,” he laments, adding that there is an urgent need to liberalise the FSSAI regulatory framework for speedier decision-making and for removing business bottlenecks.
Moving to risk-based inspections of imported food consignments will help to cut down on delays, which has become a sore point with importers. There have been many instances in the recent past when imports of Swiss chocolates and gourmet products from countries such as Italy and France have failed to pass the regulatory muster on account of some trifling differences on lablelling norms. As scrutinising imported food consignments is a time consuming task, the move to do away with the practice of putting each imported food consignment through lab checks will help to considerably lessen red tape and harrasment of importers at the hands of heavy-handed officials at custom points and ports. At present, clearance of import consignments containing food items takes 2-4 weeks depending on the port. Some ports even lack well-equipped labs, leading to further delays.
The move to switch to a more international modus operandi entails fixing a stipulated timeframe for lab testing. This will serve as the defined standard operating procedure for clearance of cargo, an exercise that is being undertaken for the first time as the country looks to improve its ranking on the World Bank’s doing business index. “We are very excited and hopeful that once this proposal of switching to random checks is implemented it will act as a big boost for international foods, for which there now exists a big and growing market in the country,” opines Amber Kobatte of Amrican Garden.
No doubt, the decision is being hailed by the fraternity of food importers who till now were bearing the brunt of FSSAI’s anachronistic approach to imported foods.