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Now, fragrance and flavours body against FSS Act; seeks early amendment
Thursday, 12 April, 2012, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Our Bureau, Mumbai
The protests against the Food Safety and Standards Act (FSSA), 2006, have gathered momentum with another leading body – Fragrances and Flavours Association of India (FAFAI) – expressing its displeasure over certain provision of the Act.

According to Ravi Mehra, chairman, flavour sub-committee, FAFAI, the present situation related to the FSSA is as follows: Rules related to multiple licensing and operations; rules related to standards and safety, and safety of the industry from initial turbulence. And hence, “It must be amended at the earliest,” he said.

“To obtain a licence, a food business operator has to obtain a number of permissions and no-objection certificates (NoCs) and submit many documents, in addition to filing returns within two months of the end of the financial year. It is impossible. The tax authorities have a prescribed format to file returns, which is an extra burden to many in the industry. The purpose of this format is to keep records of the turnover and to know the size of the industry. The same can be achieved with the VAT format as well,” he explained.

As far as his industry was concerned, Mehra said that many flavouring agents were not only used for flavouring, but also in fragrances. “To bring flavouring agent manufacturers under the purview of the FSSA Act is by no means an easy task. They might not obtain the FSSA licence, but when their material is to be purchased by a domestic firm in the flavour industry, it has to be from a licensed supplier; however, the same criterion does not apply for imports. Therefore, the local players are bound to suffer,” he said.

The ambiguity over the word ‘flavouring’ is another challenge. “The food flavouring industry is different from the flavouring industry as a whole, and FSSAI should be concerned with food flavouring only. FSSAI's interference in our operations curbs our freedom. Why should we seek their permission before taking basic decisions such as changing, upgrading or modernising our factory designs, which are undoubtedly important but unrelated to food safety,” he complained, adding that placing the factory design at the entrance may serve all FSSAI's purposes.

What irks the industry more is FSSA's categorisation of various products, which is only adding to the confusion. “The categories in the Act are neither nationally nor internationally uniform; they don't comply with the VAT codes or the Customs and Excise codes. What we expect is harmony and not the blatant defiance of the norms, which is the current practice,” said Mehra.

According to the prevalent food import rules, one needs to obtain a central licence (which also applies to ingredients) for commercial trade; this, however, does not encompass all-purpose imports. “The ambiguity is because import is for two purposes. The rule for import for domestic consumption (when imported by an actual user industry) does not apply to import for commercial trade (when imported by a trading house),” he explained.

“On the one hand, India prides itself on its proficiency in the field of information technology; on the other, it has succumbed to multiple licensing, and the industry is paying a heavy price for it,” he said, adding that software for a single-licence system was the need of the hour.

The terms ‘food additives’ and ‘flavourings’ are not interchangeable. Using flavouring agents in foods does not make sense because most flavouring agents are neither directly added to food nor should be added to it. They are diluted in solvents and then added to food in traces.

Doctors and consumers keen to know the cause of allergies opine that the labels on food containers should have three categories of ingredients: active ingredients, functional additives (other than flavourings) and flavourings and colourings.

Overseas, food additives are codified with ENS/INS numbers. This cannot happen to flavours such as vanilla, orange, chocolate, etc. The addition of flavouring is minimal in traces, less than one per cent. There is favourability in FSSA to such additions in traces.

Mehra said, “In India, the labelling of flavours are mixed with that of any other food product; and some high-end players also advocate such mixtures. Overseas, the labels on the flavours aren't the same as those of the final product.”

Citing the examples of countries such as South Africa and China, he said, “The flavour industries in those countries are more advanced than the Indian flavour industry, and there is simplicity in their labelling.”

He predicted that the development of the Indian flavour industry will not be on the basis of growth of business, but on the fundamental development of import substitutes; new development of flavouring agents and indigenous solvents.

“The FSSAI must become more liberal on legislations not related to food safety. We cannot remain dependent on imported raw material for a long time. We should question the Act and ensure that high standards are followed in India,” he said.

Mehra termed India as a country which was not developing but “quite happy to be struggling with our turnovers,” while others showed remarkable growth on many fronts. “We are voicing our anguish about issues that aren't concerned with safety whatsoever,” he said.

“The FSSA is actually a deterrent to any new player who wants to enter the food business. It must focus on the development of the indigenous food industry, instead of merely aping the rules laid down by other countries,” he said.

Food safety officers have replaced the food inspectors, who were the regulators during the Prevention of Food Adulteration (PFA) regime. They now have wider discretionary powers, including the power to levy heavy fines to the industry.

“Right now, I think FSSAI is working in tandem with consultants and is not taking the industry into confidence. From August 5, 2012 onwards, we expect a larger section of the industry to benefit,” Mehra said.

“As far as the micro-sector is concerned, they need time to understand the Act. Initially, the regulators should not fine the smaller players heavily but send them improvement notices, so that they can take all the regulations seriously and adapt to the objectives of the Act,” he said.

“At various forums, I have heard FSSAI officials reiterate their 'target': issuing five crore licences to food business operators across the country. With a population of over 120 crores, it is ridiculous to even come up with a ratio of 1:24. The studies don't make sense,” Mehra said.

“All food business operators haven't been taken into confidence. The FSSAI seems to be interacting only with a few affluent ones in Delhi. Have they bothered to find out what ails the micro-food operators in various parts of India, including our very own Dharavi,” he opined.

Another point he raised is that training and education must be imparted to the micro-industry to avoid the mass closure of their businesses. They must improve and adhere to the Act. “Currently, there is no awareness campaign for them either,” he observed.

Mehra signed off by saying, “FSSAI claims they are open to suggestions. And we have raised some. I am in constant touch with the authorities. I hope they will look into the simplification of the rules.”
 
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