Expressing serious concern over widespread panic being created by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) and several state government authorities over safety of all types of packaged and branded food, Industry boday Assocham has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking his immediate intervention, stating that an investment of Rs 90,000 crore could be jeopardized because of consumer distrust being spread by the government machinery after withdrawal of Maggi from the market.
“Recent incidences of food recall has shaken confidence of the industry thereby risking an investment of over Rs 90,000 crores and an estimated export of over US$40 billion, which will impact livelihoods, farmers, agri-wastages, inflation and moreover investment climate in India,” Assocham said in a letter to the Prime Minister.
It said in recent weeks the Indian processed food industry has come in for considerable negative publicity. The FSSAI action in the case of the Maggi brand of noodles, has been followed by a spate of notices issued by various State authorities to several other manufacturers across the country, accompanied by simultaneous press statements.
This has spawned numerous stories in the media to the effect that all brands of noodles are unsafe for consumption, creating a climate of alarm and distrust in the minds of the consumers about packaged noodles as a whole. Moreover, various state officials have been ordering removal of all brands of noodles from the retail shelves, the chamber wrote to the Prime Minister.
“Now, the consumer distrust is spilling over to other food categories as well. As a result of the recent events, an impression is gaining ground amongst the public that all branded packaged foods in India are unsafe,” it said.
The industry is witnessing a gradual shut-down of factories across the entire value-chain, many of which are in the small and medium sectors, adversely impacting employment. In addition, this is bound to impact farm incomes given that bulk of the ingredients are agri-products. The damage suffered by the industry on account of this in the last few weeks is enormous and will take many months to recover from”, it said.
While the current controversy emanated from the presence of MSG (mono sodium glutamate)in certain food items, is a permitted additive to foods. It is present in many items like tomato, green peas, corn, onion, milk, parmesan cheese etc. The FSS Act, 2006 requires that where MSG is added to a food product, it must be so declared.
“It is important to note that the presence of MSG does not mean that the product is unsafe for consumption. In fact, MSG is generally recognized as safe by US FDA, UN FAO and WHO”.
However, based on the FSSAI’s view, some state authorities have been coercing retailers to remove all such packages of noodles that carry the phrase “no added MSG” from the shelves.
The Government should clearly lay down guidelines, in the interest of justice and fairness, to ensure that the authorities refrain from making press statements and taking any coercive action even before an adjudicatory process under the law has concluded. Such guidelines be urgently communicated to the State food officials to save the industry which can increase 5-fold to Rs 5.65 lakh crores by 2030. The food products generate the highest employment, currently providing over 48 million employment in industry, apart from another 25 million in logistics, transportation and so on.