In what could have major implications for packaged foods and beverage companies, the Supreme Court has stayed the Bombay High Court judgment that quashed a product advisory issued by the Food Safety & Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) to enforce norms on imported food items.
A bench headed by Justice JS Khehar stayed the HC decision after the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India alleged that the impugned order has paralysed the mechanism to enforce food safety norms on imported food items.
The product approval advisory issued on May 11, 2013 made it mandatory for packaged food, beverage, health drink and supplement makers to disclose any ingredient or formulation change to FSSAI. The advisory was challenged in the HC as health product manufacturers and importers felt that the country's apex food safety regulator would mire them in unnecessary red tape.
The HC held that the May 11 advisory to manufacturers had no force of law and the authority had no power to issue the impugned communication without it being ratified by the two houses of Parliament.
The issue assumes importance as various bodies, including the Indian Drug Manufacturers Association (whose members include all top drug and health product makers in India, including Ranbaxy, Cadila and Jubilant Organosys) and All India Food Processors' Association (AIFPA; whose members include top food and beverage companies such as Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Nestle, Britannia and Hindustan Unilever) are likely to file impleadment applications in the Supreme Court.
Stating that it had laid down the procedure for grant of 'product approval' for imported foods, for which standards were not in place in India, FSSAI said the omnibus nature of the impugned was such that it prevented it from granting product approval to imported food items that met the standards.
“The order has also had the effect of paralysing almost entirely the discharge of regulatory functions by the Food Authority in relation to all the food products that are specified under Section 22 of the Act,” Solicitor-General Ranjit Kumar said.
To ensure safe food and eliminate danger to human life, the mandate of the Food Safety ad Standards Act 2006 was to lay down scientific standards for grant of product approval to food products for which standards are not in existence.