EU seeks clarification on India’s new hard-line labelling regulations

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

The EU's ambassador to India, Joao Cravinho
The EU's ambassador to India, Joao Cravinho

Related tags: Food safety, Food

The European Union’s ambassador to India has written to the government there in a bid to clarity its packaging regulations after around 200 tonnes of imported cheese, chocolates and other food items were blocked under the Food Safety and Standards Act.

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India halted the import on labelling grounds, in that pasting information stickers on packs is now not sufficient under new regulations.

While companies often use stickers on imported products to specify certain details that are mandatory in India, such as if the items are vegetarian or non-vegetarian, the food regulator is now insisting that all nutritional information should be printed on packs before they are shipped to the country.

Non-tariff barriers?

The food safety concerns are legitimate. We have no issues about that. We need to find a manner in which these issues can be addressed, without prejudicing trade. Otherwise, these could constitute non-tariff barriers​,” Ambassador Joao Cravinho said in his note.

The FSSAI, the regulatory agency under the health ministry that supervises import of food items to ensure quality, has this month started to take a hard-line on its labelling regulations, which came into force in 2011. 

"Why should they have stickers? Stickers are temporary measures. When our [regulations] are clearly laid out, companies must print them on the packs that are to be shipped to the country​," one official told Business Standard. 

"Stickers often [fall off] during transit or at times there are several stickers pasted on one pack​.”

There has been speculation that packaged foods worth between Rs750-1,000cr (USD$120m) were stuck at ports and airports across the country by the start of this month as FSSAI insisted that importers change their labelling.

Tip of the iceberg

Amit Lohani, convenor of the Forum of Indian Food Importers, said his group had already made numerous representations to FSSAI in a bid to resolve the issue, and added that the labelling regulations were just one of a number that had been worrying importers, including the 100% sampling of containers that come into the country. 

"Earlier sampling was to the extent of 5-10%, not more. This was to give an idea of what the consignment was made up of. With 100% sampling of each and every container now, this is obviously leading to a huge delay. Containers are hardly getting cleared​," Lohani said.

This, in turn, has had a big impact on the sale of imported snacks and treats during India’s recent festival season, and the situation is unlikely to improve in time for the next big holiday period—Christmas and New Year—when around half of the year’s imported packaged foods are sold.

Related topics: Markets, South Asia, Supply chain

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2 comments

Would the FDA relent?

Posted by Manmohan Pabla,

Well said Mr Sardana. The FSSAI should maintain its standards. Let the importers raise their quality. Let's face it, if it was the FDA or the EU's own regulator that ha to be satisfied, their compliance would be automatic.

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Importers are violating domestic laws

Posted by Vijay Sardana,

Like in EU every importer has to follow Indian Food laws. These are well published. Why importers are seeking concessions under the food laws. Will EU give the same concession to Indian importers on the same ground?

There is regular attempt by importers and exporters of food items which have very less shelf-life and ingredients which not permitted in India. They change the label and dump in India. Will EU, USA and other countries allow this. can EU give justification, why Indian laws should be diluted to accommodate imports. Will they do the same in we approach EU authorities. Let EU issue the notification, Indian government may learn from them. Let us sign equivalence agreement on food products in EU is keen to facilitate trade. Is EU keen?

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