The Indian Export Inspection Agency (EIA) has issued directives to five major seafood processing units across the country to cease production, according to a report from Business Line.
The move is seen as another step towards India's food export industry's compliance with stricter EU, US and Japanese food safety regulations. India is keen to ensure the reputation of its exports to these lucrative markets.
In the past year a number of food consignments from Asia - including India, Thailand and China - have been confiscated by EU food safety officials because they have failed to comply with EU regulations. Poultry, meat and various seafoods have all been denied due to the presence of banned chemicals or bacteria.
The Indian units that were closed this week include the Hindustan Lever plant in Gujarat; International Creative Foods, Navi Mumbai; Choice Canning Company, Kochi; Integrated Rubian, Aroor and Victoria Marines, Chennai. The five facilities process only value-added products.
The authorities issued summary instructions to each of the facilities, without any prior notice, sources in the seafood export industry said.
In addition, 17 of the largest food export houses have been placed on compulsory consignment inspection of goods before export. The responsibility for all inspection and exports from these units will now fall on the Export Inspection Officer. "In the eventuality of rejections by the importing countries, the responsibility will fall on the officer," an industry spokesman said.
"With this major responsibility vested in him, there is no way he is going to pass any consignment for export," the spokesman added.
"As these units were instructed to stop production with immediate effect, hundreds of tonnes of highly perishable raw material are on the floor and in the pipeline from fishermen and farmers. Such a move will cripple the industry," an exporter said.
It is understood that the majority of the stock at the five processing facilities was bound for both the US and Japan. However, representatives from the seafood industry have complained to the Indian authorities that it is the stricter EU regulations that have led to the closure of the five units. The representatives have claimed, therefore, that the ruling to close the export channels for the five businesses is unfair, considering which markets most of the consignments were bound for.
EU food regulations are widely seen as being prohibitive and unfair by India's leading food exporters, many of whom claim to have been unfairly treated.