South Asia radius

FSSAI increases scientific panels as charm offensive continues

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

FSSAI increases scientific panels as charm offensive continues

Related tags Food

India’s food regulator has increased the number of scientific panels that inform it, and boosted the frequency of their meetings in the wake of the Maggi instant noodles controversy that hit the packaged food industry last year.

It has set up seven new scientific panels to speed up the process of setting standards, along with the adoption of Codex standards, and new regulations relating to recall procedures, traceability, product approval, claims, food fortification and school canteens are being finalised.

The move was revealed by the health minister, Faggan Singh Kulsate, in an assurance that the government was taking steps to improve food safety processes with the aim of ensuring safer products while improving the “ease of doing business​”.

These [measures] include increasing the number of scientific panels under the FSSAI and the frequency of their meetings, harmonisation of food standards with international standards and laying down more standards​,” Kulsate said.

The minister’s response was to a written query to the Lok Sabha which asked if the government was aware of a growing “trust deficit​” between consumers and food manufacturers, and inquired if the regulator was taking steps to bridge this gap.

The government is aware of the concerns of the food processing industries​,” Kulsate replied. 

All steps considered necessary for promoting the interest of consumers through the availability of safe and wholesome food and the growth of the food processing industry are being taken by the government​.”

Such steps include the implementation and upgrade of food testing labs, and the creation of food manufacturing facilities including mega food parks and cold chains.

Last year, consumer confidence in both packaged foods and the regulator itself was hit when the FSSAI launched into action against Nestlé India, the manufacturer of Maggi noodles, which initial lab tests found to contain excessive levels of lead and monosodium glutamate.

The findings were later found to be false, allowing for a return of the noodles to the shelves after a seven-month absence. The regulator was widely seen to have lost face owing largely to its obdurate reaction to the affair.

After a change in management earlier this year, the FSSAI has ostensibly embarked on a charm offensive in a bid to woo back consumer and industry confidence, and has set out on a number of reforms to ease the regulatory system.

Last week, it set out to bring more clarity to the regulation of instant noodles by issuing draft standards for their formulation, along with a proposal that egg powder may be added. 

Previously, Pawan Agarwal, the regulator’s chief executive, established a national risk assessment panel to identify specific areas of food safety concern and manage crises, such as product recalls. It will eventually be strengthened and developed into a fully fledged national food safety and risk assessment centre.

More stories from South Asia…

Food service industry now India’s third biggest service segment

India’s food service industry must face up to a variety of issues from multiple taxation to limited foreign exchange benefits if it is to capitalise on its position as India’s third-biggest service industry, according to a report commissioned by its representative body.

Food service

Food service will contribute 2.1% to India’s gross domestic product by 2021, the report found due to an exponential growth in eating out and a rise in interest in new cuisines. 

As we see rapid urbanisation in the country, the gastronomical sector is going to boom in India​,” said Amitabh Kant, chief executive of NITI Aayog, a government-run think tank that looks at national development, as he launched the report. 

The restaurant sector is going to have a very big share in growth. The food sector provides the highest manpower requirement in the hospitality sector, and a huge impetus to other sectors like agriculture, food processing, supply chain, logistics, real estate sector etc. Therefore there is an imperative need for a paper that documents the various developmental parameters of the industry​.”

The National Restaurant Association of India, the powerful industry lobby that commissioned the report, assessed that only the retail and insurance industries were bigger in size than food service.

The total food service market today stands at Rs309tr [US$4.6tr] and has grown at 7.7% since 2013. This is projected to grow to Rs500tr​,” said Riyaaz Amlani, president of the NRAI.

This year alone, the Indian restaurant sector will create direct employment for 5.8m people and contribute Rs224bn [US$3.3bn] by the way of taxes to the Indian economy​.”

Yet the food service industry faces issues such as food commodity prices, increasing rents, unpredictable consumer demand and byzantine liquor licensing and taxation systems.

There should be a registration process rather than licensing procedures​,” Amlani said. “It takes up to 100 working days for restaurant owners to get licenses. There should be a single window licensing system which is completely online and responsive​.”

Multiple taxation, high tax rates and the exclusion of liquor from the planned implementation of GST are also standing in the path of the industry’s development, he said, calling for a uniform tax structure.

Amlani added that the restaurant sector’s problems are exacerbated by it being regulated by a number of ministries, including the tourism, agriculture and finance and commerce ministries.

Delayed Indian monsoon causes guar gum prices to rise

Indian guar gum prices have risen 17% month on month, supported by the delayed arrival of the monsoon, which in turn has delayed sowing of the new guar crop. 

Guar gum

Despite this price increase, price levels are still significantly down, by as much as 45% year on year, as farmers reduce their crop due to the lower prices seen so far this season and turn to more profitable crops, such as pulses and cotton. 

The monsoon is slightly delayed in India, with the region experiencing 25% below average rainfall in June. Commodities analyst Mintec has projected the areas planted with guar seed to decline by around 20-30% this year. 

Guar gum is used in a wide variety of food and industrial applications, mainly as a thickener in foods or more recently as a drilling aid in oil fields. Its price has been on a downward trend since 2012 when demand peaked due to the boom in shale gas drilling. 

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