Nestle, the manufacturer of Maggi Noodles, won a legal battle against FSSAI when the Mumbai High Court quashed the ban against Maggi. Months later, the Supreme Court also endorsed the High Court judgement of asking the regulator to change its food regulatory laws. The food regulator had asked food manufacturers to get recipe by recipe clearance for even those products that have already been approved.
In the case of Patanjali Noodles, the food regulator's claim has been that the FMCG company may have taken approval to launch other products but not for noodles specifically. Noodles as per the regulator requires prior approval, whereas Patanjali Ayurveda claims that it has licence under the pasta category and that noodles comes under the pasta category. Patanjali Noodles claims that it is yet to receive a legal notice from FSSAI and the deadlock continues.
Amidst all these controversies and confusion, the one thought that comes to everyone's mind is whether the FSSAI really is the ultimate food standards authority in India. And the answer is yes: head honchos of food companies unanimously agree that FSSAI is indeed the ultimate food standards authority in India and no food product can be launched without its nod or the FSSAI licence number (which is found in the rear side of the packaging of all food products).
So, what really is the procedure to obtain a FSSAI license? If a company is to launch a product like pasta, explains A. Mahendran, MD, Global Consumer Products, it needs to declare the ingredients that have gone into making the pasta. "If the ingredients are in accordance with the specified ingredient list of the regulator, then the company gets the FSSAI licence number. However, if the company uses ingredients which are unique and are not part of the regulator's list, then it will come under the proprietary products category and will require prior approval to launch the product."
In the non-proprietary category (products for which the regulator has an approved list of ingredients), the regulator doesn't even verify the product prior to launch, adds the head of a leading food company. The regulator can verify the product months after launch and in case of any discrepancy, it can take the company to task.
The regulator has standards for several categories of food. The standard for butter, for instance, is 82 per cent dairy fat, salt and water. Similarly, for a product like dairy whitener, only 18 per cent sugar content is allowed. However, there are several categories of milk and milk-based products, vegetables, fish and alcoholic beverages for which the regulator has come up with standards only this year. There are a host of other categories of food products for which the regulator is yet to come up with standards.
There is no doubt that the country's food regulator has to get its act in place on setting up sound food standard norms. Several of the existing norms, agree the honchos, are ambiguous and conflicting.
But then, FSSAI as an organisation is also in its infancy. It was launched as recently as 2006, and more importantly, the FSSAI does not have the judicial powers to punish offenders.
Perhaps it is time to empower the FSSAI for bringing in more transparency in the food sector.