"Good manufacturing practices need to be strengthened" - Dr Priti Baijal

20 November 2014 | Interviews | By Mrunmayee Vanarase

The 9th edition of food ingredients and health ingredients 2014 was held in Mumbai recently. A panel discussion on ‘Opportunities in Nutraceutical Industry Globally: Marketing & Regulatory’ was held on the occasion.

Speaking on the regulatory aspects of the nutraceutical industry, Dr Priti Baijal, Regulatory Committee Member - Health Foods and Dietary Supplements Association (HADSA) and Head - Regulatory & Medical Affairs South Asia - Reckitt & Benckiser, shared her views about the nutraceutical and functional foods market and challenges being faced by the industry to NuFFooDS Spectrum. Excerpts:


What is the contribution of nutraceuticals and functional foods in the growth of the food processing industry?

Nutraceuticals contribute to the food industry, but at the moment their share is very small. Given the rising awareness about lifestyle diseases and several new products being available in the country, this share is going to increase multifold in the years to come.


Could you comment on the current consumer trends of the nutraceutical market?

If we talk about India, consumers look at these products when they fall sick or when they notice certain signs of aging like joint pain, back pain, falling ill frequently. That is the time they start taking notice of the available nutra products or start seeking doctors’ recommendation for supportive products. Otherwise, in India, there is not much awareness and warmth towards these products. It is only when consumers become scared if they do not do anything about a recently diagnosed health condition at its mild stage and realise there is a possibility of the problem becoming severe then they start noticing signs of illness and start exploring nutra products.


What are the challenges faced by the Indian nutraceutical industry?

Firstly, non clarity of regulations and longer timelines for approvals are the biggest challenges faced today by nutraceutical industry. If these issues are resolved, everything will fall in place. Good manufacturing practices need to be strengthened. There is a huge gap in the process, procedure and handling of nutra products followed by various players in the market.

This is due to non-clarity of what guidelines need to be followed for such products, and this needs to be bridged. The government has to study how to regularise and bring good manufacturing practices into the processes and ensure good quality products. There are regulations which exist for pharmaceutical and food manufacturing practices, so maybe some learning can be drawn from there and implemented.


Could you shed light on the current Product Approval regulation for nutraceutical products?

It is very challenging at the moment because regulations are still being developed and have not come up. Approvals are taking very long. The other problem is that it does not allow innovation. It allows only certain basic combinations, which means that in India we will have a time when there will be all look-alike products in the market.


Coming to the nutritional security in the country, what are your views?

The country is extremely poor in terms of nutritional security. That is because there is no awareness as to why nutrition is important to an individual. Since childhood we have been hearing about eating proper meals to increase immunity. But beyond that there is no knowledge about nutrition.

If you ask a lay person about nutrition, his perspective of nutrition would be about body’s physical strength or body building or for mental development of children which is only when nutrition becomes important. Otherwise it means nothing much to people in India at large.


Do you think this gap can be bridged?

There are many products that have started talking about health claims through advertising and even doctors have begun recommending nutra products and educating consumers about nutritional needs, which was not happening earlier. Some awareness initiative has been started by the industry.

For example there are advertisements of protein supplements and milk modifiers talking about how they are good for health. However, there is a long way to go since gaps exist in actual claim v/s product delivery and understanding basics of nutrition. Maybe the regulators also need to do some education and awareness programmes and at the same time allow products to be sold easily in the country. Products should also be priced little cheaper for better consumer access.

Currently, available products need to import ingredients, which make the final product expensive. The regulation should allow better feasible local manufacturing, quicker approvals from the authority’s side of such products. Awareness building measures by both, the government and industry would be needed. Nutrition programmes should also be included in school curriculum, educating children at a very young age about importance of nutrition in our everyday life so that it is inculcated in our habits from the beginning. Because good health is the only thing that will remain with us forever and help us live a good life.

Is the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) dealing with health and nutrition claims in the current form of the regulation?
FSSAI is not regulating claims currently but does evaluate claims submitted with the application. FSSAI does allow basic ingredient related claims but if there is anything over and above the generic claim then it needs to be supported with scientific rationale and data.


Traditional medicines are being used as health supplements. What are your views on this?

Products classified and licensed as Ayurvedic medicines will remain under medicines. They come under AYUSH and Drugs and Cosmetics Act. They will not come under food. What would be allowed in food would be other herbal combination. If any product is being made following the Ayurvedic texts and literature, it comes under Ayurvedic medicine.

However, if you pick and choose two ingredients and make a herbal combination product, which does not have the strength or indication as Ayurvedic medicine it can be classified as a food supplement. For example, Amla tablet which can be classified as a medicine as well as a food supplement. Amla’s quantity to give therapeutic benefits to treat some conditions classifies it as a medicine but if it is present in a product for general benefits, in much smaller quantities then it can be classified as a nutraceutical.


Where do you see this industry going by 2020?

The industry growth should be good, because given the current environmental situation lifestyle ailments and its related changes are here to stay. Our lives are going to be much busier in the years to come. Also, our negligence towards our own health is not going to go away.
That’s the reason why dependency on nutraceuticals and supplements will increase. The market will grow and business will increase, even if the regulators and industry evolve together. People are not going to stop consuming these products. If tablets and capsules are not available, maybe we would start taking an extra spoon of turmeric or start consuming tulsi and ginger on a regular basis in an attempt to add nutraceuticals in our lives.

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