Adulterated tea: India threatens legal action as tea consumption in the country remains low

By Pearly Neo contact

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Tea Board India has warned manufacturers and sellers of tea and related products that adulterating teas with any form of artificial colouring will see legal action being enforced, stating that there is ‘no provision’ of any sort for using colour in tea. ©Getty Images
Tea Board India has warned manufacturers and sellers of tea and related products that adulterating teas with any form of artificial colouring will see legal action being enforced, stating that there is ‘no provision’ of any sort for using colour in tea. ©Getty Images

Related tags: India, Tea, Adulteration

Tea Board India has warned manufacturers and sellers of tea and related products that adulterating teas with any form of artificial colouring will see legal action being enforced, stating that there is ‘no provision’ of any sort for using colour in tea.

The board is India’s national authority on tea, formed as a government statutory body under the country’s Ministry of Commerce and Industry.

According to an official notice by the board, tea is not listed as one of the food and beverage items for which added synthetic colouring is allowed, and this is also ‘strictly prohibited’​ for food safety and health reasons.

“The treatment of teas with various colouring matters comes under the head of adulterants,”​ said Tea Board India.

“The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) permits the use of eight synthetic [colours] which are nontoxic [that] are allowed to be used in [specific] food items [like] sweets, fruit juice etc. Tea is not included in this list of food and beverage items.”

According to item 2.10.1 in the FSSAI Food Safety and Standards (Food Products Standards and Food Additives) Regulations 2011 on tea, all related products must be free from ‘extraneous matter, added colouring matter and harmful substances’​. This restriction on colouring usage applies to all teas, including black, oolong, Kangra camellia and green teas.

For tea, colouring is generally added in order to change the colour of or add ‘glossiness’ to the product, so as to improve both appearance and price.

Emphasising that the use of colouring for tea was wholly unnecessary in terms of non-commercial purposes, the board also threatened legal action on companies that did not comply with FSSAI regulations on this moving forth.

“Colouring matters which are added to tea do not add any value to the product. There is no such provision for use of colour in tea [and] Tea Board strongly advises [adherence to] the guidelines of FSSAI, [and this means] not using any colour in tea,”​ it added.

 “[Although] it is very difficult to identify colour adulteration in tea, we have simple screening tests that can help us to detect this. [If we detect any] violation of the above guidelines, this adulteration may attract legal action.”

One of the most common tea adulterants is the use of the Plumbago or Black Lead colouring agent for black tea – a major source of contention as this is also used in lead pencils.

The board acknowledged that no solid evidence exists that proves this agent is hazardous for human health, but stressed that ‘adding foreign matter to the teas for the purpose of deception should be strongly discouraged’​.

Help brought in for tea industry in India

India is the world’s second-largest tea producer behind China, but local consumption remains low, according to Indian consultancy platform Consultancy.in​.

“Despite an overall growth in India’s consumption levels, [its] per capita tea consumption did not even make the top 25 in the world in 2016, which represents an unfavourable economic situation,”​ it stated.

According to Statista, tea consumption in India is estimated at 1.09 billion kilogrammes for 2019, a mere 1.8% increase from 1.07 billion kilogrammes in 2018.

This is on the back of reportedly increasingly unstable and decreasing government subsidy provision for the industry, as per Telegraph India​.

In an attempt to bring up consumption levels, the Tea Board has brought in Big Four accounting and advisory firm Deloitte to compile a comprehensive report on the industry and possible solutions to this issue.

Speaking to Times of India ​at the Indian Tea GeNext Seminar earlier this year, Tea Board Deputy Chairman Arun Kumar Ray confirmed this, and pushed for the tea industry to be more proactive in helping itself.

“Deloitte was hired last month to increase per capita consumption and give emphasis on ‘exportable’ orthodox tea production,”​ he said.

“Instead of pushing the Board for more aid, the industry must come up with comprehensive funding plans.

“Proper branding and promotion can give Indian tea producers an edge in the overseas market. However, only low-cost tea production can keep the profit margin intact. India spends INR500mn (US$6.99mn) a year on tea promotion, while the figure is INR3.5bn (US$48.93mn) for Sri Lanka.”

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