Suppliers unmoved by new meat standards in India

By Raghavendra Verma, in New Delhi

- Last updated on GMT

Microbiological standards for meat have been developed by the Indian Food Safety and Standards Authority
Microbiological standards for meat have been developed by the Indian Food Safety and Standards Authority

Related tags Meat Meat products Food safety Food Codex alimentarius

India has released a draft of its first microbiological standards for meat and meat products. 

However, local processors doubt its immediate utility given the overwhelming dominance of the roadside vendors in the business. 

The rules were made under the Food Safety and Standards (Food Products Standards and Food Additives) Amendment Regulations, 2015. And the regulation will apply to fresh, chilled and frozen meat; raw minced or ground meat and related products; cured or pickled meat; fermented meat products; dried or dehydrated meat products; cooked or semi-cooked meat; and canned or retort pouch meat. 

Perumal Karthikeyan, assistant director for regulations and Codex Alimentarius issues at the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), in New Delhi, told GlobalMeatNews​ that the standards will help improve food quality in the country: “We [have] tried to align them with international standards​,” he said. 

However, Surjit Singh Kohli, managing director of SHL Agro Foods, in Chandigarh, northern India, told GlobalMeatNews​ that the reforms will probably only affect supplies to airline food caterers, hotels, restaurants and higher-end branded retail. “The existing 5% [processed chicken suppliers in the country] are already sticking to these guidelines and the remaining 95% of the local supply system will not be affected​,” he said, pointing to India’s huge unorganised and unregulated meat supply chain. 

Furthermore, Indian authorities have a poor record of implementing food safety rules and it would be difficult to predict the future impact of these new steps, said Priya Sud, a partner at buffalo meat exporting firm Al Noor Exports in New Delhi. “It is only when there is hype in the media that we come to know the repercussions of such measures​,” she told GlobalMeatNews​. 

According to Karthikeyan, these new standards will be implemented by state governments, which – in theory – have the necessary resources to impose and check their use. The new standards are likely to come into force in July 2016, and will apply only to meat and meat products that are imported and destined for domestic consumption, he said. 

For exported food products, the FSSAI will not have a role to play. Sud said that her company adheres to the standards of importing countries. 

Singh stressed that domestic processed food manufacturers already have to abide by some standards. He said his company adheres to similar microbiological guidelines set by Indian army, to whom he supplies processed chicken. 

But for India to achieve higher meat standards it is imperative for the whole industry to secure an effective cold chain network, said Sud, and this might not be immediately realistic. It would require significant capital investment and consumers are not ready to pay for these additional costs, she said. With the Indian meat industry mainly run by small Muslim family-owned businesses already under stress through trading restrictions such as meat bans by Hindu nationalist governments in several states, this could be a tough call. But Sud said: “If the adoption of cold chain is made compulsory we will all work around it​.” 

Furthermore, growing awareness of food safety may help encourage the implementation of the new standards, said Ms Sud. “In the past five years there has been a change as people’s outlook about of food quality and also the restaurants are getting more cautious​,” she said. 

And the government is already preparing to devise stricter regulations: “More regulations and standards are in pipeline, it will be coming soon​,” warned Karthikeyan. 

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