The country is about to witness dramatic changes in food norms, impacting the industry significantly, if initiatives being taken by the Food Safety & Standards Authority are a yardstick.
Formulation of food recall procedures in case of unsafe or hazardous products, mandatory compliance with good agricultural practices for big retailers, labelling changes for packaged food items, organic food certification, setting water quality standards and verification of claims by food supplement companies are among the major reforms being planned by the sector regulator and the government.
FSSAI is currently in the process of consulting with industry stakeholders on food recall procedures.
Speaking to Business Standard, FSSAI chairman P I Suvrathan said food recall was a rather complex process and the Authority would be able to come out with related norms early next year.
The provision of recall exists in the new integrated food safety law, expected to come into effect this August, but 'we have not developed a recall procedure yet', said Suvrathan.
According to him, many countries do not have a recall procedure.
The draft food recall rules state the objective of the procedure as 'guiding food business operators on how to carry out a food recall through an efficient, rapid identification, as well as removal of unsafe food and food that violate the Act and Rules & Regulations.. . '
Informing consumers about the food hazard, establishing a written recall plan, and having a follow-up action plan are also part of the draft.
The authority is also set to look at good agricultural practice as an effective way of assuring food safety. FSSAI will now start putting GAP-certification as a mandatory condition for large retail companies in India.
"GAP is important because a major part of all food products originate from agriculture," the FSSAI chairman said. If we know the extent of pesticide a farmer is using, checking food safety and level of contamination will be that much simpler.
Organic food is another area of focus for the Authority. What can be called organic and what is near-organic are some of the things that FSSAI will look at.
"We have plans of taking up organic food certification," said Suvrathan. Many agencies and ministries are working in this area and FSSAI is consulting with all of them on the issue.
Another priority area are new guidelines on labelling and claims by manufacturers of food products and health supplements.
If a food product or supplement manufacturer claims something, it will have to establish it. The Authority has developed the first part of the regulation and the new norms should be in place by the end of this year.
"We are updating the current labeling provisions. Scientific backing for claims will be necessary. What study have you done, what is the evidence -- you have to prove your claims.
"These are the questions we will ask," said Suvrathan.
As for contents on the cover/packaging, the print size and logo, everything will be vetted.
"Often companies say that they have to make the print very small because they need to put in so many things as part of labelling."
Now, they have been told that only relevant information like expiry date and ingredients should be there. Take away all that is irrelevant."
Setting standards for quality of water used in food products is also on the to-do list of the Food Safety Authority.
"Water is dealt with by 15 agencies, including several ministries in India," said Suvrathan. The Authority will come out with a standard for potable water within six months.