Ever since FSSAI came up with labelling guidelines in compliance to Food Safety & Standards Act, it has continually been sending back or withholding stocks of chocolates, canola oil, liquor, seafood, fresh meat, seafood, pasta-sauce, mayonnaise, candy, juices, chips, spices, soymilk, gluten-free for non-compliance with the labelling regulations. It seems that imported packaged foods worth more than Rs.1000 crores are lying at various ports in India for failure to comply with the new rules.
One of the major issues as per FSS (Packaging & Labelling) Regulations, 2011, that is causing difficulty for the importers is that ingredients should be labelled in descending order of their composition by weight and volume at the time of manufacture, even in products like alcoholic beverages. Liquor imports have hit an all time low because of labelling woes as labels that fail to mention additives, like colour, water, flavouring and preservatives are being withheld at ports.
Some chocolate giants like Swiss manufacturer ‘Lindt’ specially changed their ingredient labelling for India according to the new rules. However, even the newly labelled consignments of ‘Lindt’ chocolates were withheld as FSSAI maintained they had still not complied with the requirement that stated chocolates with vegetable oil or fat would not be imported and also that the labels had failed to mention the use of artificial flavours.
Similarly, food products that had stickers and not the “inseparable labels” have also been withheld by the apex food authority as it felt that importers were applying stickers to get in their products into the country before the festive season begins and had not complied with the Indian regulations which says that, “the label must be inseparable one“. FSSAI opines that some of these stickers are in Chinese and Japanese which consumers cannot understand and so they are only ensuring the safety of the consumers. The confusion over stickers arose because of the Madras High Court Order in the Foodlever case in March 2012 which allowed for mandatory information to be mentioned on stickers.
Canola oil importers are likely to face huge losses as the labelling impasse with FSSAI continues. FSSAI stipulation that Canola oil must be labelled “Imported rapeseed – low erucic acid oil. Canola Oil” and that it must list ingredients and call it only “edible vegetable oil” and not Canola Oil is not gelling with importers who feel that Canola oil is being discriminated against. Codex standards of edible oil also has a different biological and technical term as the one used in India, like Arachis oil is labelled only groundnut oil.
Importers say that they are not selling cheap rapeseed oil in the guise of the Canola label and it is not they who have given the name Canola. Since Canola is the popular name for it all over the world importers feel that they will not be able to market the oil with the new label.
People from the food industry say that that labelling requirements have created confusion and have brought losses to the importers, consumers are paying more in the grey market which is thriving as a result. While some manufacturers of imported foods are planning to pull out of the country permanently others are seeking legal measures.
Some importers have managed to procure stay orders and have had their goods released from the ports and which others may follow. The European Union has approached Indian government authorities and if matters are not resolved soon with FSSAI, then it is possible that many European countries could stop food exports to India.
FSSAI is in the process of introducing new guidelines on food labelling and the draft regulation on the same is available on the official website of FSSAI.