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INTERVIEW

"Change in food landscape by innovation, participation"
Monday, 26 December, 2016, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Ashwani Maindola

Its a decade since the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) was established and the country woke up to a dawn that emphasised on ensuring food safety from farm to fork. Hence, right time to know more about the food safety related issues that the country is facing currently from Siraj Chaudhary, chairman, Cargill India, who has been at the forefront always while discussing issues related to the food industry with the authorities concerned. He addresses some pertinent issues vis-à-vis food industry in an email interaction with Ashwani Maindola. Excerpts:

Comment on the current food safety scenario in the country.
It has undergone a significant change. Change for a better future where I think what was necessary in the beginning has been recognised by the authority that the food industry and the regulator, has to work together. And the authority made the change and welcomed the industry and encouraged the industry to partner with it and created a lot of initiatives for that. One of the problems the industry suffered was product approval. Now this issue with other similar issues was addressed. And once the industry was at peace with respect to the regulatory environment, the authority started inviting the industry to partner in its various initiatives like fortification or food safety. So today the relationship between the two sides is very good and it has the potential to change the food landscape of the country by means of encouraging innovation and industry participation in addressing some of the food needs of the population.

In recent times, FSSAI has taken many initiatives for partnering with the industry. One of the initiatives was ‘corporates for food safety,’ elaborate.
A lot of corporates are now getting involved in educating people about food safety issues. One such initiative taken up by the corporates was for educating street food vendors and consumers. CII supported by Cargill, NASVI, Consumer Voice etc., ran a yearlong programme on food safety, Surakshit Khadya Abhiyan, which was about safe food awareness.

FSSAI also talked about running labs in PPP mode. How would corporates react to this, according to you?

I see a lot of interest it has generated amongst a lot of corporations. Based on individual needs and capabilities, the corporates would want to come in. They will need support in terms of policy on import of machines and equipment, samplings etc. The process needs to be recognised that creates value. That’s we’re looking for from the government.

How is the food processing industry doing at the moment?
Mostly it’s doing well, as regulation issue is settling down. The environment is conducive for growth and innovation. But there is little worry from demand side. There is a slowdown of demand. The consumption is not as high as we wanted it to be. It has been linked to low wealth and poor monsoon etc.  Hopefully with monsoon good this year and Seventh Pay Commission, things will get better.

What challenge do you see for future prospects of food industry?
There are concerns around GST. How rates slabs would be? But MoFPI has assured that the rates slab would be in no tax or lowest slab. Logically that shouldn’t be of much concern. But the discussion (on the slabs) will still happen (until the final outcome) and food processing industry will present its case as and when required.

How does your company see itself as part of India’s food industry? What are your future plans?
India is a place of considerable importance for Cargill. We’re looking to grow our business and be more relevant to consumers. Our brands Gemini, Sweekar, Nature Fresh atta, Leonardo olive oil, Rath vanaspati etc. have witnessed growth and within this year we inaugurated the corn milling facility in India as well.

Further, we have been the leaders in fortification of edible oil. The whole food fortification is becoming a focus area to address the nutritional needs of the country and I am happy to say that we see this coming, years ago. In 2007, we started fortification of edible oil. Now across the food processing industry, fortification is a much talked about subject. More companies are taking such initiatives like Mother Dairy launching fortified milk, Nestle has talked about this. We’re able to bring the nutritional debate to the centre of the table.
 
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