Food manufacturers and importers are unsure how to interpret the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India’s (FSSAI’s) statement that it had decided to scrap product approvals, after the Supreme Court on 19 August questioned the procedures followed by the FSSAI for granting such approvals.
Companies are of the opinion that it may now take longer to launch new products as the food regulator may fall back on the old procedure for product approvals for non-standardized products which come under section 22 of the FSSAI Act 2006.
“Product approvals will now be further delayed,” said Siraj Chaudhry, chairman, Cargill India Pvt. Ltd which markets the Leonardo range of olive oils, Gemini, NatureFresh, Sweekar, Rath and Sunflower Vanaspati oils in India,
The advisory of May 2013, which is now being revoked, was made to accelerate the old product approval process, he said.
The FSSAI has also shut down the facility on its website for product approval, creating more confusion as to how new products are to now be launched.
“We are unsure whether only standardized products will now get approval,” said Nagarjan S, managing director, Mother Dairy Fruit and Vegetable Pvt. Ltd.
There are only about 320 standards which govern standardized food items and the advisory of May 2013 was made to get approvals for non-standardized food items, he said.
According to FSSAI, the standards cover close to 95% of the food items available in the country. The remaining 5% come under proprietary food which are non-conventional food products or products for which the standards have not been defined.
This section also looks at food items being introduced for the first time in India. Even food items like Nestle India Ltd’s Maggi which noodles, which was recently banned by FSSAI for allegedly containing monosodium glutamate and excess lead until the Bombay high court reversed the order, came under the proprietary foods section.
Over the last two years, the FSSAI and companies have been increasingly at loggerheads as the regulator withheld product approvals.
For instance, Tata Starbucks Ltd, a joint venture between Tata Global Beverages Ltd and Starbucks Coffee Co., in April 2014 filed a case in the Bombay high court for not getting product approvals from the regulator. The case got disposed of in February 2015. However, over 30 of the company’s products are yet to get approvals; these include sauces, toppings and puddings.
The Supreme Court order upholding a Bombay high court decision to quash an advisory issued by FSSAI on the procedure for product approvals could also mean that companies no longer need product approvals and can launch their products faster. How it is implemented is still to be seen.