Spurred by the Maggi noodle controversy that has the country in its grips, India is now witnessing a new drive by the food industry to make sure its products meets regulatory requirements from packaging to product testing.
According to Economic Times, food company executives are being urged by their companies to “go back to the drawing board” to ensure that every element of production conforms to regulations.
As a precautionary stance, several companies are also making provisions for product recall and insurance sought by the Indian government.
"Today, our supply chains are geographically spread across markets and tough laws increase our exposure to risk. In a digitally-wired world, the impact of reputation risk is huge. It has completely changed the rules of the business," a senior industry executive told the newspaper.
ET reported that the local units have especially been asked by their multinational parents to stay clear of controversies. It said that even worried executives of competing companies had been holding discussions with each other on how they can tackle and best avoid a similar crisis to what is taking place with Maggi.
“We are all going back to basics — getting product approvals right, checking combination of seasoning and the product claims made on the package. We are also now going to keep the regulators briefed on the same," one chief executive of a multinational company was quoted as saying.
Analysts predict that the row over the safety of Maggi noodles, and their withdrawal from sale, will have far reaching consequences for India’s entire food processing industry, not least through tightened regulations.
Authorities urged to move away from end-point control inspections
India should move away from end-point control to risk-based inspection of food, according to a leading food safety consultant to the FAO.
Many other countries have moved away from the traditional system of end-point control, where the final product would be subject to testing by food control and safety agencies, observed Ramesh V Bhatt, who was speaking to The Hindu.
His calls were echoed by the president of the Indian Pharmacological Society of India, B. Dinesh Kumar, when he called this week for the frequent audit and inspection of manufacturing facilities from well-known brands in addition to locally-made and obscure ones.
Kumar has also called for the certificate of analysis for all products should be placed in the public domain.
India’s food safety regime, led by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), is no stranger to criticism from all corners, with experts urging it to establish a standardised procedure for testing food across the country, rather than relying on individual states to conduct this with varying results.
In a recent interview with CNBC-TV18, former Britannia chief executive Sunil Alagh slammed the food-testing process as disastrous.
“Does everybody know that there is lead in every single product you eat? That is why the government of India has put permissible limits on it. Nobody adds lead to a product. It is available in the soil, it comes from the groundwater, it comes from the flour. So, the question is… are we using the right testing processes?” he said, in reference to Maggi noodles, which were found in some tests to contain excess levels of lead, though Nestlé’s own tests refute the official results.
Indians not informed well enough by labels
More most be done to improve nutrition labelling in India because as it stands, consumers do not know enough about the ingredients in processed foods, according to one research and advocacy body.
New Delhi-based non-profit Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) criticised current labelling practices, saying consumers had the right to know what was in their food and that ingredients should be clearly mentioned on packets, alongside a percentage of recommended daily allowance.
India still lacks labelling regulations to address the issue of manufacturers exercising “selective disclosure” of nutritional information of their products, CSE said.
It also hit out at celebrity-endorsements, which it said were unregulated and in need of "mandatory" controls.
Meanwhile, the FSSAI appears to have asked some multinationals to scientifically justify the way their products are labelled, marketed and sold.
Business Standard found that the authority had contacted companies including Kellogg and Heinz with queries on products claiming to be low in sugar, along with questions on their packaging.
Heinz confirmed that its easy-to-cook baked beans had been under scrutiny, though was unable to comment on regulatory issues.
Other items under investigation, according to BS, include Complan Pista Badam and Kellogg's yet-to-be-launched Oats and Honey.
DSM partners Sobisco in CSR nutrition programme
Nutritional ingredient major Royal DSM will partner Sona Biscuits (Sobisco) in India to provide effective nutrition to consumers in Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Orissa.
This initiative is part of a DSM social programme to fortify common staples and popular local snacks and beverages like sattu and jhalmuri. The agreement was signed in the presence of Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, in India.
“I am confident that Dutch companies like DSM and their science-based solutions can help tackle malnutrition in India using their knowledge and expertise in collaboration with local partners,” said Rutte.
Geraldine Matchett, a member of DSM’s board, added: “Fortification of staple and popular foods is considered to be one of the best approaches for combating micronutrient deficiencies.”
Rice exports on a downward spiral, rains hit coriander production
Prices for Indian basmati rice remain stable amid speculation Iran will resume rice imports this year, according to data analyst Mintec.
Iran, which accounts for almost 40% of India’s aromatic rice exports, imposed a ban on rice imports in 2014 due to large domestic supplies. In 2015/16, Indian rice exports are forecast to decrease further, down 17% y-o-y to 8.5m tonnes due to lower ending stocks.
Mintec also reports that Indian coriander prices dipped temporarily in February on expectations of a bumper crop. A 20% increase in coriander production was seen with the first arrivals of the crop onto the market, largely as a result of increased planted area.
However, subsequent heavy unseasonal rains and hailstorms damaged production during the harvest, which led to prices surging by 70% between the beginning of March and the end of May. Several districts within the main growing regions of Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan have reported that damage could affect up to 45% of production.