Multi-fold challenges: Milind Kokje

Only a few days will be left to meet the deadline for every food business operator (FBO) in the country to either register with or obtain licence from Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI). As the deadline approaches FSSAI is entangled in another issue, controversial from the industry’s perspective, related to labelling of imported food items.

FSSAI has announced February 4, 2014 as the last day for registration and obtaining licences for FBOs. It has also very categorically stated that the date will not be extended. Any entity that handles food post harvesting in any of its forms, in any way comes under the category of FBO. This increases the number of FBOs requiring licence or registration.

The real challenge is going to be registration of large number of roadside food vendors spread across every nook and corner of cities and towns. The task is gigantic as no one knows their, forget exact, even nearby estimated number. Out of ballpark estimate of total 5.5 million FBOs, a very large number belongs to this unorganised sector, selling some food item in some corner. FSSAI has set up regional offices, making available online registration facility and taking help of states. It is not known as to how much work is still incomplete.

Registration of this roadside unorganised class is done for purpose of ensuring traceability. But this is the most difficult and Herculean task compared to issuing licences to big players. Of course, issuing licences to big players has its own issues, but is still manageable. The only chance for complaint could be delays in issuing licences.

While this huge challenge is before FSSAI, it is also facing another issue. The food importers are against FSSAI’s order on labelling. The stand-off is on for a long time considering that the shelf life of food items is short. FSSAI is right on two counts. It is enforcing the regulations to ensure safety of imported food items and proper communication of their contents to local consumers. FSSAI has also not brought the regulation suddenly as it was in offing for the last two years. However, the importers have one point in their favour. FSSAI can be strict on the issue as far as big exporters from other countries are concerned, but it will have to find out some middle ground for those manufacturers whose exports to India are low in volume and cannot afford to print separate labels.

This is just the beginning of issues for the regulator as locating the ever growing roadside vendors and setting cleanliness standards for them and their implementation is going to be a permanent challenge. As the enforcement of regulation progresses the industry too will have many more issues, rightly or wrongly, that would need to be resolved. It would surely be a busy time for FSSAI with gigantic tasks and multi-fold challenges.

I wish all our readers, advertisers, supporters and well-wishers a very happy and prosperous New Year.

Milind Kokje

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