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Food regulator FSSAI proposes tougher regulations for food importers

16,December, 2015

India’s food regulator is proposing tougher regulations for food importers, as it seeks to address concerns about the entry of sub-standard food products into the country. However, the move might once again pit the regulator which has faced criticism for its ban on Maggi noodles and for blocking imports of items such as chocolates against the food industry. The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) is planning to clamp down on import of food products through its latest draft regulations.

The draft norms require importers to indemnify consumers through third-party insurance cover for injuries or damages caused by imported food items. FSSAI will soon put the proposed regulation on its website seeking public comments. A person with direct knowledge of the development said the new regulation was designed to prevent India from becoming a “dumping ground” for sub-standard food imports. An email sent to FSSAI did not elicit a response till the time of going to press. When asked about the proposed regulations, the body’s director of imports said, “This is not in my knowledge.”

The food regulator and the industry have often been at odds with each other and importers who have been chaffing at issues such as excessive taxation, ambiguity in food safety laws and labelling regulations are likely to oppose the additional rules. While FSSAI shot into prominence because of its stringent actions against Maggi noodles, it had earlier blocked consignments of Starbucks and some chocolate brands such as Mars, Godiva, Guylian and Lindt, on the ground that they did not contain India-specific labelling.

“At present, clearance of just one shipment containing food items could take 8-20 days, which is a very long time,” said Amit Lohani, convener of the Forum of Indian Food Importers (FIFI). “Indian laws are not up-to-date, which leads to huge losses,” he added.

HISTORY OF SAFE USAGE

According to the draft regulations, importers will also be required to submit a certificate showing a history of safe consumption of the food product in the country of origin. If importers can furnish the safety track record, the Indian regulator will fasttrack approvals for those products.

Earlier, importers were required to only produce a certificate of origin issued by an authorised person or agency at the place of manufacturing of the food consignment. “Certificate of origin issued by authorised person or agency at the place of manufacturing or processing, etc, of the food consignment. Certificate of origin shall contain information on country of origin, etc, if the consignor is from a different country,” said the standard operating procedure issued by FSSAI in May this year.

The draft regulations also require videography of the process of taking samples for testing in order to document the procedure. The draft also requires all containers in which food items are imported to adhere to international standards with respect to temperature and the material of the container. India’s labelling norms will apply to both imported items and food products manufactured in India.

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