Food licence: No extensions after May 4; FSSAI to use surveillance system
New Delhi: May 4, the latest deadline for FBOs to obtain licence or secure registration under Food Safety and Standards (Licensing and Registration of Food Business) Regulations, 2011,may be the last, with indications that both the apex food regulator FSSAI and its enforcement machinery (FDAs, FDCAs and so on) not in favour of anymore extensions. Instead, the authorities concerned will introduce novel methods such as surveillance-based safety management system for ensuring completion of the task.
In view of this new stance, the authority and the implementation bodies may limit their role to creating awareness among FBOs (Food Business Operators) on the food safety scenario in the country and putting the onus on them to take the initiative in obtaining licence and securing registration.
The change in approach is apparent. When asked about the current scenario, FSSAI CEO Pawan Kumar Agarwal replied to FnB News, “There needs a greater clarity on the subject as to what is expected from FBOs by means of licensing and registration.”
He added, “Momentum will not come until there is clarity about the obligations on FBOs after they get licence and registration numbers and that’s why the surveillance-based safety management system is being devised to educate the FBO about his role.” For this purpose, a drive will begin for checking the licence numbers in coming months. Agarwal explains, “We want the FBOs to come voluntarily to get the licences and registration numbers.”
Interestingly, while the final decision with regard to the extension rests with the ministry of health, sources indicate that a message has been conveyed to the ministry about the objective — getting every FBO licensed and registered — eluding the FSSAI with repeated extensions to the deadline, total of seven, being granted ever since the work began about five years ago.
Meanwhile, a look at the statistics, shows that in the last three months, the apex regulator’s licensing and registration exercise witnessed a hike of little over two lakhs in numbers. While the number of FBOs in the country is approximately 5 crore, the current figure (till late April) for those who have completed the procedure remains over 35 lakh. According to FSSAI, the total Central licences issued were 25,357 (as on April 22, 2016), total state licences – 7,11,975 (as on April 12, 2016) and total registrations were 27,72,080 (as on April 12, 2016).
About three months back, the figure for FBOs who completed the procedure stood at 33 lakh, as per the CEO. He stated that it was not close to the 10 per cent of big estimated FBOs. The earlier figure was Central licences (as on Jan 26, 2016)–24,293, state licences (as on Jan 20, 2016) – 666,763 and registrations (as on Jan 20, 2016) – 26,91,543.
Apart from the change in FSSAI’s approach, another key issue in the current scenario is the revision of definition of FBOs. According to industry sources, definition of FBOs needed a revision, with only those who involved in food business with direct manufacturing included while the retailers excluded.
In Gujarat, G D Solanki, food safety officer, Food and Drugs Control Administration (FDCA), Gujarat, said, "The extension which was undertaken in the month of February was for conversions. We on our part have initiated mobile van and testing vans which undertook licencing/ registration in the villages and testing of the food products respectively."
He added, "We have always ensured that every single FBO should be registered. Several FBOs were called in the office of FDCA so that they should know laws and benefits of registration and obtaining licences. We called the FBOs at FDCA offices and asked them to get registered."
In Maharashtra, a senior official from Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) Maharashtra, said, "The extension is subject to the decision of the ministry. The extension was undertaken to bring the food industry under its loop so that the regulation becomes easy. Also, due to low manpower which was affecting our conversion work is not an issue as all the work in this regard is almost completed. In case of another extension, ministry won’t favour."
He pointed out, "On the last instance in the month of February when the date was extended, many FDAs of the nation were yet to convert its old licences into the FSSA ones. It can be seen that most of the laws which are recently notified are in fact favouring industry."
In Madhya Pradesh, Pramod Shukla, joint controller, FDA, Madhya Pradesh, said, “Almost all the conversion work is completed and very few FBOs are left behind to be registered. Once the deadline of May 4 ends or may be extended, we, in the state of Madhya Pradesh. will run a special drive which will target to register 35 per cent more FBOs than those on May 4.”
State Licences Registrations
Maharashtra 2 13 779 7 03 457
Gujarat 56 477 1 52 342
Kerala 22 021 78 396
Madhya Pradesh 50 000 3 50 000