In a conversation with Restaurant India, David shares his perspective on legalities involved on the clearance of gourmet products in India and about the recent tightening of the import law by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) that works under the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Government of India.
The FSSAI has recently tightened the import policy of gourmet foods in India. What do you think why they have done it?
First FSSAI tries to reach the international standards in terms of food safety and they are right in doing it. FSSAI sees what are the international norms for the importation of Indian food and try to put the same measure to protect the consumers. For example, beginning of November, about 12 percent of spices brought to the US from India were contaminated with insect parts, whole insects, rodent hairs and other things. Every year in US, 1.2 million salmonella illnesses are declared with a large part due to that contamination.
Second, too many complaints by consumers appear every year about spoiled products with a false or modified labelling. A sticker is easy to remove!
Third, FSSAI guidelines impose to importers to be very rigorous with the origin and the source of the products. As many importers use middle men to import gourmet products, importers will need to go directly to the manufacturer or to be very exigent to the middle men to have the right documents.
What is your take on this?
By principle, every measure taken in favour of the protection of the consumer is a good measure. The fact that the regulator wants to replace stickers on imported food by printed information on packs shipped to the country is a good disposition to protect the Indian consumer. This protection is going in two ways. First- importers will need to work directly with the manufacturers and not middle men, to prepare the labels to comply with the norms. It will help to know exactly the origin of the products. Second, if the information is printed on the food label, you cannot remove it without distorting the packaging of the product.
There is a dispute now with this norm because the Diwali import of gourmet products is down by nearly 40 percent and many containers are blocked at the customs for non-respect of this disposition. When you think about the Chinese contaminated baby milk scandal, all the Japanese food at risk due to radiation or the European eColi responsible of food contamination and death, believe me, the protection of the consumer should remain a priority especially in India. Food safety has always been a topic of major focus by regulator: the consumer protection prevails over the economic interests.
How this is going to impact gourmet food business in India?
Currently this norm impacts import of gourmet food in India. More than 1,000 containers are not cleared at the customs because the labelling doesn’t comply with the FSSAI guidelines. But authorities, by showing a strict position to the importers, put them a constraint where they have to comply with the norm which is very good again for the consumer. In the future if they want to see their containers cleared at the customs, they will have to follow the law.
With time, that won’t be an issue. First because the worldwide producers want to enter in the Indian market so they will do the necessary to comply with the India law; second because importers don’t want to lose their containers and they will take all the measures to respect the norms.
How gourmet retailers should face this challenge?
On one hand, if the gourmet retailer works with an importer, it belongs to him to check the labelling of the products that he purchased with the importer. On the other hand, if the gourmet retailer imports by himself, he will have to respect the law. The consequence is on worldwide manufacturers. If they want to work in the Indian market they will have to adapt the labelling of their products to the FSSAI guidelines. In a long term run this norm won’t be a problem, and will become the base for more protection.