Last week, the Supreme court found that the Food Safety and Standards Authority (FSSAI) did not have the power to issue mandates outwith the Act that governs its practices.
The decision came after the FSSAI had appealed a ruling by Bombay High Court last year in favour of a challenge by Vital Neutraceuticals against the regulator's powers to issue product-approval advisories. Vital had argued that such advisories had been issued on the basis of “arbitrary” guidelines.
At least 700 approvals are believed to have been held up since 2013, with the FSSAI issuing repeated clarifications and advisories to companies, most of which were for product approvals sought for proprietary foods.
Before 2013, product approval was required only for the introduction of a new ingredient or additive. But in May 2013, the FSSAI broadened this to cover all products, even if they used approved ingredients or additives within permissible limits.
In the Vital complaint, the FSSAI said nutraceuticals were steroids and harmful. But the high court declared last year that this advisory exceeded existing regulations.
"The food authority cannot say this is a bad product and list it as a bad product because it doesn't like a product. There have to be reasons for it. Where is the authority for you to do this?” the two-man Supreme Court panel asked.
The justices also told the FSSAI to petition the government to change India’s food laws instead of resorting to the courts.
In the letter sent by the Confederation of All India Traders (Cait) to JP Nadda, the union minister of health, the body urged the health ministry to withdraw around 15 advisories issued since 2013.
In their communication to the minister, under whom the FSSAI operates, Cait leaders alleged the regulator had been issuing such advisories not only to state FDA departments but also to stakeholders.
They said the court order had since made these advisories redundant and so they should be withdrawn. By doing so, they said, food companies could be reassured that they would no longer be “harassed" by administrators.
Cait also urged the minister to set up a joint committee of senior officials and representatives of stakeholders to suggest amendments to the food safety Act.
The FSSAI will now issue provisional no-objection certificates to food manufacturers for product launches, Business Line has reported, citing sources.
“One of the core issues in front of the industry after the SC order is how we proceed with product launches. It seems the food regulator could look at giving a provisional NOC to help companies launch products till there is an amendment,” a senior official told the paper after a meeting between regulators and industry leaders.
UP FDA 'finds more lead in noodles'
Uttar Pradesh Food and Drug Authority, which was earlier this year at the centre of an affair involving Maggi noodles after it said it had found excess lead in the Nestlé-made product, now claims to have found quantities of the element in another product, ITC's Yippee noodles.
Having taken a sample of the noodles from a mall in Aligarh, the state food watchdog said it had found it contained lead “far in excess to the permissible limit”.
The UP FDA is now waiting for permission from the FDA chief commissioner before it can file a case.
“The laboratory report for these samples, received here yesterday, indicated the lead content which should have been below one ppm was found to be 1.057 ppm,” Business Standard quoted an UP FDA official as saying.
Yesterday, ITC said it had not received any notice from authorities about the safety of its product.
A spokesperson said: “ITC would like to assure its consumers that it has carried out tests of more than 800 samples of Sunfeast Yippee Noodles both internally and externally at FSSAI-approved laboratories in India and international laboratories in Italy, Singapore and Japan, and we have found that the lead content in all the samples was either not detected, or was much below the prescribed limits under the food safety regulations.”
ITC also questioned whether the UP FDA had tested its sample in an accredited lab.
India could be on way to developing palm oil industry
Speculation is mounting that India will make its own push into palm oil cultivation as part of a plan by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to make the country self sufficient in edible oils.
According to a Reuters report, which cited government sources, officials have earmarked US$1.5bn over the next three years to allow farmers to grow 2m hectares of oil palm in “nine states with suitable climatic conditions”.
India currently imports US$10bn worth of edible oils, making its highest overseas-sourced food spend. Earlier plans to develop a homegrown palm industry were halted by restrictive plantation planning regulations and the five-year gestation period for the crop, Reuters reported.
Junk food committee makes recommendations known
With childhood obesity reaching alarming levels in India, a government-appointed committee has recommended a number of measures to counter it, including ban on sale of junk food in and around schools.
An official release said the Committee on Consumption of Junk Food by School Children, set up by the Women and Child Development Ministry, had suggested a comprehensive definition of junk food in the context of children, and that all such food items should be banned in school canteens.
"It has also suggested that street-vendors should not be permitted to sell these foods during school timings in a vicinity of 200 metres from any school. Shops and restaurants selling food within 200 metres of a school should not be permitted to sell these to children in school uniforms," it said.
The committee, which was set up to look into the issues relating to growing problems of obesity in children and its relationship with consumption of junk food, expressed concerns about the increasing incidence of obesity in them and the related-physiological issues including diabetes and hypertension.
IFPRI should turn to education to reduce childhood stunting
Nutrition education should be integrated into social programmes in Bangladesh to speed up the reduction in the number of stunted children below the age of five, experts from the International Food Policy Research Institute have advised.
At 36% in 2014, the number of stunted children has dropped from 59% in 1990, now the government spends 12% of its annual budget on safety net programmes through cash transfer, food-aided programmes, and mixed-transfer modalities.
“We studied for two years and found out that if nutrition education is made a part of these programmes, the number of stunted children can be reduced faster," said Akhter Ahmed, a local IFPRI official.
Shenggen Fan, the IFPRI’s director general, said that Bangladesh will be one of the focal countries of an initiative aimed to end hunger and undernutrition by 2025.
Fan also called for a shift in public sector support from the production of less nutrient-rich food to types that are more nutritious, with an emphasis on developing fisheries, dairies and vegetable producers.
Supply fears lead to higher basmati prices
Prices for Indian basmati have risen recently due to concerns over supply as farmers shift acreage to more profitable crops, commodities analyst Mintec reports.
The fall in prices at the end of 2014 was due to a drop in export demand caused by a ban on imports by Iran, the largest importer of Indian basmati. The ban is expected to be lifted soon.