The new act: A boost for the food processing sector

By Sidhartha Srivastava and Gurmeet Kainth, DH Law Associates
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India’s fast growing food processing sector has triggered a significant increase in litigation and corporate commercial work over the past few years. The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry expects the sector to expand from US$40-50 billion to US$300-350 billion by 2020.

In August 2011, the numerous laws that govern the sector were replaced with the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, (FSSA). However, even two years after it was introduced, the FSSA is still in implementation stages with some of its provisions currently under review.

Understanding the new law

Differences between the FSSA and one of the main acts it replaced, the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1956, (PFA) are detailed below:

Sidhartha Srivastava
Sidhartha Srivastava

Definition of food: The FSSA defines food as any substance intended for human consumption, whether processed, partially processed or unprocessed. It includes primary food as defined in section 3(ZK) of the act, genetically modified or engineered food or food containing such ingredients, infant food, packaged drinking water, alcoholic drink, chewing gum, and any substance, including water used in food during its manufacture, preparation or treatment.

The PFA defined food as any article used as food or drink for human consumption other than drugs and water. It had included any article which ordinarily enters into, or is used in the composition or preparation of, human food, any flavouring matter or condiments.

Authority: The FSSA provides for the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) as a single statutory body for food laws, standards setting and enforcement. Food safety is also regulated by a technology and scientific committee, central advisory committee, representatives of the food industry, consumers, farmers and retailers.

Statutory authorities for food laws under the PFA were the Central Committee For Food Standards, Central Food Laboratory, food inspectors, etc.

Licences: Under section 31 of the FSSA all food business operators need a licence or registration issued by a local authority. Temporary stall holders are exempted from this, but are required to get their business registered with the panchayat or local municipality.

Novel food, genetically modified food, etc: While the PFA set no limit on vitamins, minerals and other nutrients, such foods have been defined for the first time under section 22 of the FSSA.

Gurmeet Kainth
Gurmeet Kainth

Food recall: The FSSA allows for the removal of unsafe food from the market to minimize and prevent injury to consumers. It can be initiated voluntarily by the manufacturers and distributors or by the food authority. The PFA did not provide for recall of food.

Improvement notice: While the PFA was silent on this, the FSSA states that a designated officer may serve an improvement notice on a food business operator who fails to comply with the act.

Prohibition of import: The PFA prohibited import of adulterated or misbranded food. The FSSA similarly prohibits import of food which is unsafe, misbranded, sub-standard and that which contravenes any provisions of the act.

Advantages of the FSSA

The enactment of the FSSA and the introduction of food audits, improvement notices and food recall procedures make India’s food laws at par with those in the US, the UK and the European Union.

While introducing laws for packaging and labelling, the FSSA imposes restrictions on food advertisements. It also prohibits unfair competition in food and provides for special courts and the Food Safety Appellate Tribunal to expeditiously hear food-related cases. This is a relief for companies and food business operators.

Keeping pace with change

The food authority issues guidelines to keep pace with developments in international food safety. One recent guideline pertains to the approval of food products. Though the new guideline does not contemplate major changes from regulations previously in force, it has streamlined the classification of ingredients of products into the following:

• Food products where safety of ingredients present are known and permitted under FSS Regulation, 2011/Codex and other regulatory bodies like EU/FSANZ/USFDA, etc.

• Food products where safety of ingredients present are known and permitted under FSS Regulation, 2011/Codex and other regulatory bodies like EU/FSANZ/USFDA, etc. and the food product contains plants or botanicals or substances from animal origin.

• Food products where safety of the ingredients is insufficient to make a safety determination.

• Food products where safety of ingredients and their conditions of use are prescribed/standardized or permitted by the FSSAI.

The new guidelines are at:

www.fssai.gov.in/Portals/0/Pdf/ProductApproval%2817-05-2013%29.pdf

The FSSA is a step forward for the food industry and consumers. However, the new regime is still at a nascent stage and its effectiveness will depend on how the FSSA is implemented.

(D.H. Law Associates)

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