The wine stand-off

Aug 03 2014, 01:48 IST
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SummaryThe Food Safety & Standards Authority of India has hit quite the flummoxing roadblock when it comes to wines: How is it possible that this product continues to sell without any ingredients or expiry date, and not just in India, but the world over?

IN INDIA, growth happens in spite of ourselves and the ongoing tiff between the authorities and smug Indian businessmen of the liquor trade is quite the spectacle. Now, before anybody judges me, either the authorities or especially these said businessmen, I assure you (and them) that I empathise with their pain even as I try and evaluate the benefits of this new system.

A little about the ‘pain’ first then. The Food Safety & Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) is a body under the Food Safety & Standards Act, 2006, in line with WTO guidelines, and is entrusted with the task of ensuring that all goods available for consumers of the world’s largest democracy are fit for consumption and state their ingredients clearly and precisely with nothing omitted or concealed. The FSSAI has fairly sophisticated laboratories to assist them in this hound-like activity.

But the official tasters of the Indian republic hit quite the flummoxing roadblock when it came to wines. How was it possible that this product continued to sell without any ingredients or expiry date, and not just in India, but the world over?

Till now, the state excise used to confine its interests to collecting tax based on the total volume and percentage of alcohol. Beyond that they didn’t concern themselves. But the FSSAI, governed neither by revenue nor commerce, did. Laws were passed circa early-August 2011 for all products (mostly food, but liquor and wine were also included) to comply with the labelling laws of the nation. Although there was a period when suggestions were invited on a public platform it wasn’t till December 2013 when the authorities went ahead and enforced the rules that the importers started objecting to. Since then, consignments have been stuck, bad press is being generated globally and utter confusion has prevailed.

But the importers aren’t entirely wrong. To be fair, the FSSAI hasn’t really managed to address the issues they wish compliance on. Here are a few:

1. Exact address: They require the exact address for a winery right down to the street, which is often not possible, as many wineries in a village are landmark enough to not need a specific road or house number.

2. Lack of tie-ups: Liaising with other similar foreign laboratories so that tests once conducted anywhere are valid here too, thereby reducing the duplication of reports and expenditure. For now, everything is tested in spite of being compliant with

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