On 22 August, industry chamber, ASSOCHAM organised an interactive session, where the members of the food industry had an opportunity to interact with Ashish Bahuguna, new Chairperson of the FSSAI. Ashish Bahuguna has just taken over the reins of the FSSAI and according to his own admission he is new to the organisation. He also felt that food safety is a vast subject and things become more complicated when FSSAI has to also deal with various aspects of food safety according to India’s vast geographical footprint.
His remarks came on the back of the Supreme Court order that quashed the FSSAI plea for issuing advisories on seeking product approval for products that were already in the market. While the Supreme Court order might have come as a bolt out of the blue for the FSSAI it has also left the Food Business Operators in a quandary. What happens to product approval now? Would the 15 advisories that are in the public domain be withdrawn and declared invalid or should the food manufacturers still pay heed to them?
While searching for a possible solution Ashish Bahuguna, suggested that perhaps those food products which have been approved by FSSAI should stand approved and the products which are in the pipeline could be considered as NOCs till they are finally approved by the authority. He was however, quick to add that he is putting forth his views only from his personal account. He also said that at the end of the day, a product is approved by FSSAI so responsibility for the product also falls on the FSSAI.
The new FSSAI Chairman made it clear that though the regulations might need to be streamlined he does not see how the food industry could be run without the Rules and Regulations. He however, was also quite clear that revamping the FSSAI would be a long drawn out process. He pointed to the fact that while adopting rules and regulations from international bodies like Codex Alimentarius a clear value needs to be established and a conscious effort made about what is suitable for adoption into the Indian regulatory system.
He requested the industry to work as a team so that the concerted efforts of all stakeholders could bring about an effective and more streamlined regulation. He felt there was also a need to have workable solutions but which are based on the backbone of scientific findings. Also he felt that if explanatory notes were attached they would help to convey a clearer understanding of the regulations.
Among various suggestions that came up during the session from the industry one demonstrated the need for risk assessment and improvement process, which could be instituted, before the FSSAI made changes in regulations. Another suggestion was to have provisions for an appropriate redressal mechanism. Some also suggested that the label ‘proprietary food’ be removed till standards were established. Yet another request was made for setting up a procedure to approve ingredients and additives that had been cleared by international food agencies but not by FSSAI.
The food industry and the FSSAI Chairperson agreed to the establishment of a Core group that would act as a communication channel between the industry and FSSAI to convey the problems the industry faced with regulations. This need was especially felt in the wake of the Nestlé’s Maggi controversy that underlined the need for manufacturers to comply with regulations but also brought out the scarcity in appropriate testing facilities in the country. Presently there are only two government laboratories under the purview of the FSSAI, one at Ghaziabad and the other at Kolkata. Therefore there was a clear need to increase the number of laboratories and also develop the technical skills needed by personnel in these testing laboratories.