The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) have released a paper that urges FSSAI to lay down regulations for nutraceuticals, functional foods and dietary supplements at the earliest. All those Food Business Operators who are associated with the manufacture and market of these food products in the country, have to go through a lengthy product approval system.
The paper was released at a national symposium on nutraceuticals, herbals and functional foods organised by ASSOCHAM. Speaking at the event, the Delhi Health Minister Satyendra Jain, who also released the paper, said that 80% of women from the economically backward areas of Delhi were found to be suffering from haemoglobin deficiency.
Since nutraceuticals and supplements seek to remove deficiencies it is required that the regulations for such food products are formulated soon so that the consumers can benefit from these products. To regulate nutraceuticals, functional foods and dietary supplements the FSSAI had set up a task force in May 2013. Presently the draft regulations are being studied and examined by the legal department.
FSSAI has recently finalised 12,000 standards for food additives and ingredients in line with global safety standards Codex. In case ingredients and additives used in nutraceuticals and dietary supplements come within these standards then manufacturers will not be required to go through the lengthy food product approval process.
Nutraceutical products are gaining in popularity because of lifestyle and health issues of consumers. In fact Nutraceuticals are poised for growth and the industry has the potential to grow to USD 12.2 billion in the next five years. However, lack of regulatory norms is holding the industry back as the products require medical credibility.
ASSOCHAM has stated in the paper that early regulations will help this fast growing industry to provide better products. It will also put a halt to distribution of counterfeit products in the market the safety of which could be suspect. A scientifically drawn regulatory framework will ensure that the consumer is safe and the nutraceutical manufacturers also do not face hardships because of rejection of product approval.
Section 22 of the FSS Act 2006 describes nutraceutical and functional foods as foods that are specially formulated to for the dietary requirements of consumers which exist because of a particular physical or physiological condition or specific disease or disorder. These foods contain ingredients from plants, contain minerals or vitamins or proteins or metals or their compounds or amino acids within Recommended Daily Allowance for Indians or enzymes within permitted limits. They are meant for supplementing the diet by increasing the total dietary intake.
However, ASSOCHAM has also pointed to the fact that almost 60 to 70% of the food supplements in the market are fake as they do not match this description. Such products need to be recalled as they are being marketed without product approval. Manufacturers are taking shelter under the umbrella of “proprietary foods” to manufacture nutraceuticals as proprietary foods are defined in the FSS Act 2006, as “an article of food for which standards have not been specified, but is not unsafe” and does not contain any prohibited foods and ingredients as mentioned in the regulations.
ASSOCHAM has also made a suggestion about building small bodies at the block level that will identify these fake products and help to oust them from the market. Many of the products make tall claims about the benefits but there is no way to check if the ingredients have been used in amounts that are effective or have just been added randomly or at low levels, which actually renders them ineffective.
Presently there is also no clarity about whether these products are to be called drugs or foods. However, both food manufacturers like Heinz, Kellogg’s, Nestle, Hormel, Unilever as well as pharmaceuticals like Johnson & Johnson and GlaxoSmithKline are making these products in India besides numerous smaller and sometimes unknown manufacturers.
ASSOCHAM would also like the government to provide special incentives and subsidies to emerging companies so that the low increase penetration can be of nutraceuticals in the market can be increased. The Apex industry body feels that since the foods provide both medical as well as health benefits consumer awareness about these products must increase.
This will enable consumers to take advantage of the disease preventive abilities of nutraceuticals and functional foods especially for life style diseases like diabetes and cardio vascular problems, besides helping consumers to surmount vitamin and mineral deficiencies. ASSOCHAM also feels that providing children with functional foods and beverages as part of Midday meals will help address malnutrition in school going children.