30-Aug-15 Leave a comment
The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) seems to be extremely busy and for good reason, I guess, considering that we have a billion bellies to fill. There is literally a bull run going on when one looks at the
noodles of media mentions that this august institution has been garnering ever since it came into existence in 2006. The first chart below shows this uptick in popularity. If you are a technical chartist, I am sure you will see some pennant patterns getting formed. Pennants of waving authority in the name of food safety. Authority indeed! The “Authority” has quite authoritatively stamped its seal of disapproval on more than 400 food products between Aug’12 to Apr’15 (see chart on the right, below). This is based on the list of product applications that were rejected by the FSSAI. This list is available on FSSAI’s website.
When I look at the list of the food items banned by the FSSAI, I realize that I have consumed around 20 of them myself. Is that why I am suddenly feeling queasy? I miss my “meri blog post karne wali Maggi“?
I obviously do not understand anything about food safety and regulations apart from the fact that food items, while being agents of nourishment are also implements of commerce, livelihood and international relations. In that context, and bereft of any finer nuances of information, some of the actions of the FSSAI seem to be out of balance. And it personally hurts as well – especially if they work again to keep my beloved Glenfiddich, Glenmorangie, Aberlour [oh, yes!] et al out of India. :( The FSSAI’s apparent objection to the import of the bottles of these ambrosia is that their manufacturers have/had not mentioned “water” as an ingredient in the product labels. Lindt, makers of chocolate since 1845, have/had reportedly dropped their business plans in India since they could not explain some finer
points of “composite chocolates” to the Authority. FSSAI was also reportedly ‘cheesed off’ at the importers of Parmegiano Reggiano because it is made of milk that is not pasteurized. Huh! I consume P. Reggiano regularly and I don’t care whether it made of pasteurized milk or not considering that this King of Cheeses is a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) food and has always been made this way since the Middle Ages. There are accounts of green olives being allowed into India but black olives being ‘black’ listed since it may have been surmised that black olives are green ones gone bad! At least that’s the story being trolled around in the Internet. The picture on the right is my attempt at creating a food basket of some of the foodstuffs which have earned the attention of the FSSAI over the years.
It’s imperative to “build a healthy India with safe food”, but not at the cost of logic and good business order. Outliers do tend to get noticed, reported and talked about. The 2013-14 annual report of the FSSAI does show that the organization cleared 99.79% of shipments for import clearance, but I guess parties connected to the balance 21 basis points make a lot of noise and complain. So I think there is some PR work that needs to be done by the FSSAI to maintain and improve its image amongst the intelligentsia. There is indeed a Facebook page, which has some really useful food safety information amid all the clutter of the automated feeds of their periodic notifications and circulars. Their isn’t much traffic on their Facebook page though – they need to solve for that. There is also the question of whether the organization is staffed adequately (both in terms of the number and quality of employees) and if it has adequate testing and admin facilities. If one goes by the steady stream of adverts for open jobs put up on its website, it does appear that the organization is looking to hire aggressively. The mandate of FSSAI is extremely large and my hunch is that the proficiency and sufficiency of the testing labs will lag for a very long time. According to the BCG [link], India’s food market is a staggering 23 lakh crore in 2014 and is expected to grow to 42 lakh crore by 2020 (13% CAGR). To monitor a 2,300,000 crore industry, the FSSAI spent 42 crores during 2013-14 doing stuff. Thoroughly inadequate. The white dot in the picture on the right is the FSSAI – sitting as it is in the center of an industry which is approximately 55 thousand times its annual spend. The picture is scaled down to 20% – at it’s full size the black circle would not fit your computer screen.