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NUTRITION

Need to make nutraceuticals, food supplements affordable, states Meena
Saturday, 08 July, 2017, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Our Bureau, New Delhi
In his address at the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry (ASSOCHAM) National Symposium on Nutraceuticals in New Delhi recently, J P Meena, secretary, ministry of food processing industries (MoFPI) stressed on the need to make the food supplements and nutraceuticals affordable, as about 43 per cent children across India were  malnourished, while the sector mainly caters to middle- and upper-middle class consumers.

Noting the various challenges being faced by the sector, such as the need to gain public confidence and questions raised as to whether the claims being made by the manufacturers were evidence-based, he added, “Attempts are being made to remove these constraints, but I think the industry has to cover a lot of distance to make it a popular product, more so when awareness about health and processed foods is on the rise. Traceability will become paramount.”

Meena said that the only way to ensure traceability was to develop backward linkages. “I think the present practice of sourcing raw material from here and there will have to be done away with. We will have to get into the organised cultivation of plants required for nutraceuticals.” He added that MoFPI has particularly been focusing on making farmers or growers partners in the growth story of the food processing sector.

“Unless the benefits, to some extent, are passed on to the farmers, the future of the industry will not be very stable, and we may not be able to face challenges which will emerge in the future on account of health concerns,” he added. Meena stated that sooner or later traceability will become an issue, and everybody in the food business may be required to have certification on this issue. “Therein actually lies the tie-up with the farmers,” he added.
 
Meena stated that with regards to capacity expansion and creating new capacities, MoFPI has launched a new scheme, Kisan Sampada, whereby the government will be investing Rs 6,000 crore over next three years. “This should bring in an investment of about Rs 35,000 crore in the food processing sector as a whole,” he added.

FSSAI addressing concerns

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) is in the process of addressing the concerns raised by the industry on new standards for eight categories of products, including health supplements and nutraceuticals, notified last year. This was stated by the apex food regulator’s chief executive officer, Pawan Kumar Agarwal, at the ASSOCHAM symposium.

“I take this opportunity to reassure the industry here that if there are concerns with the standards we have released, we are still open to changing those standards, making provisions to address the concerns that you have,” he added, stating that the regulator had received five or six representations. “Of course, it has to go through a process. We are in the process of doing so,” Agarwal said.

“These standards will come into force for compliance from January 1, 2018, so we have a little time in hand before these come into force. So hopefully, we will be able to iron out those differences and concerns which will be addressed within the next five or six months that we have,” he added.

Agarwal said that FSSAI released the standards of nutraceuticals a few months ago after prolonged deliberations by the scientific panel, the scientific committee and the authority.

“There are associated standards and regulations. The key amongst them are labelling regulations and claim regulations (for which the draft will soon be available on our website). We will be very happy to get feedback from the industry on those drafts,” he added.

Agarwal stated that these were also quite contentious issues, considering that consumers’ interest is primary for any regulator. “I think that is non-negotiable. So any food supplement manufacturer making any kinds of claims has to be extra cautious. And as a regulator, we have to ensure that those claims are substantiated with evidence.”

He added that the industry might have reservations regarding claim regulations, which will soon be put in place. “I am pre-warning you that there may be some concerns from the sector,” he said.

As far as labelling is concerned, Agarwal said that there may not be too many issues. He, however, added that FSSAI had been getting reports from the field that an increasingly large number of spurious products is available in the market now.

“The challenge with the food supplements is that there is no robust framework for testing food supplements. There are also issues about good manufacturing practices (GMPs) in the food supplement and nutraceutical sectors,” added the FSSAI chief.

He said that FSSAI has set up a technical panel with representatives from food supplement companies to put together the framework for good manufacturing practices for nutraceuticals and food supplements.

“We do hope that it will bring greater clarity to have a more robust ecosystem for the manufacturing, processing and distribution of food supplements in the country,” Agarwal added.

He said that though there were many companies that imported food supplements, and while the FSSAI intended to provide them a level playing field, their focus was on promoting processing and manufacturing within India, considering the government’s Make in India campaign.

The FSSAI chief added that it was imperative for both the industry and government to work together to provide a more robust framework for the growth of the food supplement and nutraceutical sectors in India.
 
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