Gokaran Singh Pawar, National Sales Head, Sunpure
Globally, India is the largest consumer and importer of edible oil. Our average monthly edible oil imports in 2021-22 was 1.17 million tonnes. That accounts for over 60 per cent of the edible oil consumption in the country. The need of the hour is to reduce the heavy dependence on imports and become more self-reliant.
The Food and Safety Standards Authority (FSSAI) has been doing a commendable job at the policy level as well as with on-ground activities to streamline processes and ensure food hygiene and safety. However, there’s much more that can be achieved. Here are some suggestions for India’s apex food regulator to help create an ecosystem that can boost the country’s edible oil production.
Crackdown on sale of loose edible oil
Even as the government took a bold step in banning the sale of loose edible oil to address the growing concerns regarding adulteration, the fact remains that the practice is still prevalent, particularly in small towns. The FSSAI must adopt proactive measures to curb such illegal sales and safeguard consumer interests. Similarly, the importance of the packing material used and their quality cannot be overstated. The food regulator ought to undertake periodic checks to ensure that sellers comply with policy guidelines.
Deterring use of harmful chemicals
We are seeing a transformation in the edible oil market. With Indian consumers getting more health conscious, there is a shift towards premium oils like olive oil, avocado oil, and rice bran oil. FSSAI must encourage manufacturers to also adopt healthier processes, powered by advanced technologies. Physically refined oils that are chemical-free should become the norm, sans any artificial agents, preservatives, and colouring agents commonly used to make the product attractive and increase its shelf life.
Increasing awareness on UCO consumption
Consumption of used cooking oil (UCO) – the leftover oil from frying and cooking – is regulated in many countries, including India, due to its adverse health effects. Repeated use of UCO has been linked by extensive medical research to a number of ailments, such as cancer, heart disease, and organ damage. However, despite the regulatory framework, there’s lack of ground-level implementation. FSSAI must spearhead consumer awareness campaigns to drive home this important message, in collaboration with other critical stakeholders in the ecosystem, such as food industry associations, consumer groups, industry bodies, public health experts, doctors, and nutritionists.
Encouraging responsible disposal of used cooking oil
Currently, India has no clear policy on the disposal of used cooking oil, especially for commercial users. It’s critical to address this policy gap. FSSAI must develop a legal and regulatory framework, based on inputs from industry stakeholders. One suggestion is to have dedicated collection agents pick up the used cooking oil for safe disposal. The success of such initiatives lies in building institutional capacity from the ground up.
Faster approvals and clearances
The edible oils industry in India is a vibrant and dynamic space, with a lot of new players entering the industry. In order to encourage constant innovation – like blended cooking oils, for instance – it will be helpful to have seamless processes in place that facilitate faster approvals and clearances. The FSSAI can take the lead in fostering a culture of innovation and sustained growth, while ensuring healthy compliance among manufacturers and effective ground-level implementation.
Inspiring more framers to take up oilseed farming
India needs more government initiatives to help farmers shift to oilseed farming, as well as improve the quality and yield of their crops. The FSSAI can drive greater awareness among Indian farmers about the benefits of oilseed production. We need to encourage scientific ways to yield better crops and to ensure the restoration of cultivation lands. Unless we create a sustainable ecosystem for Indian farmers, our dependence on edible oil imports will persist as will the high volatility in oil prices.