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GoI food regulator's order to adversely tell on small, medium enterprises: FSSAI chief told

Counterview Desk 

In a letter to the Chairperson and the chief executive, Food Safety & Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), a Government of India (GoI) regulator, as many as 150 activists, experts and concerned citizens have objected to the FSSAI order mandating all food business operators (FBO) which are manufacturers, re-packers and re-labellers, to get all food products to be tested and the lab reports uploaded onto a portal.
The letter says, the scientific basis of the is “unclear”, apprehending, FSSAI's regulation would “end up pushing small operators out of business”, as the whole exercise is “cost-prohibitive and onerous.” The order requires 6-monthly lab testing reports of all foods and uploading of the same.

Text: 

Greetings! We are a group of civil society members who are working on sustainable and safe food systems, working with consumers as well as producers, including with farmers in shifting them towards an agro-ecological paradigm of production.
We write to you to express our serious concerns with regard to an Order dated 13th January 2023, of the Regulatory Compliance Division (File No. 15(31)2020/FoSCoS/RCD/FSSAIpt-I-Part (1)). Through this Order, the FSSAI is mandating compulsory testing for all products endorsed on a FSSAI license, every six months in a financial year, and uploading of the same through FoSCoS. Reference is being cited as Conditions of License Number 12 (Annexure 3) of Schedule 2 of Food Safety and Standards (Licensing and Registration of Food Businesses) Regulations 2011. Annexure-3 incidentally is “conditions of license”.
On behalf of small manufacturers, re-packers and re-labellers, we have the following points to state:
  1. India’s food safety regulatory regime runs on the premise that small FBOs with an annual turnover of less than 12 lakh rupees are likely to cause lesser risk in any eventuality and therefore, requires them to only register with the regulator, whereas businesses above 12 lakhs’ turnover are required to obtain licenses to operate. Small operators are also defined in terms of production capacity with a ceiling of 100 liters or kilos per day, of food products. For licenses, once again, a state or central license comes into play, depending on another turnover band - 12 lakhs to 20 crores of annual turnover requires a state license and above that, a central license. Medium and Large enterprises with licenses have to necessarily print their FSSAI license number on the food products’ packaging. While Annexure-3 of Schedule 2 regarding registration and licensing is pertaining to “Conditions of License”, this January 2023 Order is appearing to cover all operators. Further, Annexure-3 cannot be applied to “registered FBOs” because the very rationale for this regulatory regime will be lost.
  2. The same rationale as above should logically be maintained when it comes to those FBOs which are manufacturers (Section 3 (1)(zd) of the Act), repackers and relabellers of foods and the above Order (of 13th January 2023) cannot be uniformly applied to all FBOs who are manufacturers, repackers and re-labellers.
  3. Importantly, the entire regulatory regime in its statutory schema, is supposed to ensure food safety by way of the registration and licensing mechanisms, by the laying down of standards and by ensuring compliance to the same by the Food Safety Officer drawing samples and sending it to the Food Analyst for analysis (Section 38). In addition, the Indian statute also has provisions for the purchaser to get food analysed (Section 40) and get a refund of the fees paid to the Food Analyst if contraventions are found. When the regulatory apparatus has both these mechanisms apart from routine entry and inspection processes where Food Safety Officers and Food Analysts are already at work, why is the responsibility of food testing being thrust upon manufacturers themselves? What about the conflict of interest involved in this process? More importantly, what about the costs involved and who will reimburse the FBOs and how - for each product, it will cost in the range of Rs. 5000/- to Rs. 19500/-, and therefore, at least Rs. 10,000/- for annual testing of the product two times a year and many businesses deal with at least 15-20 products (for products like honey, it will cost at least Rs. 30,000/- per test and for heavy metals testing, private labs are charging Rs. 13000/- or so per product)? Additionally, does India have the lab testing facilities for lakhs and lakhs of samples to be continuously tested for all the parameters that FSSAI is laying down? The burden on even a licensed FBO who is a manufacturer with an annual turnover of, let us say, 15 lakh rupees can be easily understood. Worse, a penalty of Rs.100 per day is being threatened if reports are uploaded beyond the stated deadline.
  4. What is the scientific basis of risk management behind getting all products tested on a six-monthly basis, irrespective of the scale of market or shelf life or other considerations?
All in all, this Order from FSSAI seems to have many adverse economic implications for the livelihoods of small as well as medium enterprises of food manufacturing, apart from creating an extremely onerous online mechanism and these will work against many FBOs. It is also without any scientific basis and a circumventing of the mandate of FSSAI apparatus itself.
This is just a way of killing most FBOs in the country, paving the way for big brand food industry to take over. FSSAI’s regulations in any case favor such brands and not small FBOs, as was seen in the past too. We collectively urge you to please withdraw the said Order immediately and rely on FSSAI’s inspection, sampling and testing mechanisms for ensuring food safety.
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