Citing the lack of infrastructure as a major impediment in promotion of food processing, Union Minister for Food Processing Harsimrat Kaur Badal, in an interview to Deepak Patel, lists out the challenges being faced by the sector and the steps being taken by the government. Edited excerpts:
What are the challenges you faced in last one year? What challenges are you still facing in food processing sector?
We have been working for last three years to create an environment to promote food processing because as you know, we are one of the largest producers of food but only 10 per cent of it is processed. And the reason for this is lack of infrastructure as it is a capital-intensive industry. Moreover, it is only seasonal. This is why the sector has not grown. To promote the sector, not only we had to put more infrastructure in place, but we also had to create an environment so that the industry progressed. So, we brought a lot of policy measures. We have made sure it gets priority sector lending from banks. A major roadblock was Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), which comes under health ministry. A product-by-product approval had to be done and that meant a wait of 1-1.5 years. We harmonised FSSAI standards with global standards.
You said that the product approval time by FSSAI has been reduced from the earlier period of 1-1.5 years. How much has been the reduction?
It has totally disappeared now. When I took over this ministry, every company used to come and cry to me that while you are saying Make in India how can we make in India when we don’t even know when to plan our launch. They said how will we plan our finances when we don’t know when we will get our approval. Today, no one even talks about FSSAI. FSSAI used to do product-by-product approval. Globally, it is ingredient approval. Earlier, FSSAI used to have 375 ingredients for approval which have now been increased to 12,000. So we have harmonised our standards with CODEX standards, which is the way it is run universally. If you are using ingredients among those 12 thousand ingredients, now you need not get your product approved. This roadblock is totally gone.
The PM has called food wastage a ‘menace’. What steps is your ministry taking in this regard?
As I said, only 10 per cent of our food is processed. As per the study done by my ministry, Rs 92 thousand crore worth of food is wasted annually. Our wastage is basically during harvest, transportation and storage. So, the more infrastructure that comes up for processing, after harvesting you will have more outlets to sell. Today, a farmers takes his harvest to mandi. If he does not get a good price, he throws it nearby or uses it as a feed. Now, if an industry is established nearby, the farmer can go and sell his harvest. Industry needs the farmer’s raw material.
You said that food processing in India is only 10 per cent. And you have set a target of 20 per cent…
Yeah, my target was that by the time our government’s tenure is over, we should take it to 20 per cent. I will create this infrastructure by 2019, but we have got Rs 6000 crore now, hence , I need five years from now. By 2019, with infrastructure in place, processing would go up by at least 50 per cent – it means from 10 per cent to 15 per cent.
You have been talking about inspector raj at state-level for your industry. What is the situation now?
With GST, there is going to be one tax in the nation. It will put an end to a lot of inspector raj. On the regulatory side, the FSSAI has been doing a lot of work. They are working to design the protocols for testing also. I have asked the FSSAI chief that he should create an authority where people can complain if they are being harassed. First, they (FSSAI) were working on CODEX standards, now they are working on labeling standards.
There have been incidents where people, who were transporting cattle, were hurt or killed allegedly by cow vigilantes. Do you think it will subsequently hurt our meat processing industry?
Meat processing industry has not flagged any such thing to me. Those with a license are already regulated. Industry which has been affected is the illegal one where the Supreme Court has said that not only these slaughterhouses cause pollution and environment concerns but they are also unhygienic and a hazard to the health of the people. So, all unlicensed and illegal slaughterhouses should be shut down. So, all unlicensed and illegal slaughterhouses should be shut down. Probably, other governments did not look at this for political reasons because they used to play certain kind of politics, which is why environment and public health was suffering.
India has been one of the largest exporters of beef in 2016. Considering the fact that Brazil is giving stiff competition to India, are you planning any steps for “ease of doing business” for this industry?
No, I think in our country what is being exported is already seen in rather large amounts. Already buffalo meat (export) is going on. If somebody else is doing better, I have no idea about that.
Some state food and drug authorities have recently found products such as Nestle’s Ceralac, Adani’s Fortune Oil and Marico’s Saffola Oil to be substandard. These firms have raised objections to the state FDAs. Do you think this whole process needs to be streamlined?
Yes, this is why after Nestle Maggi issue, I said that there needs to be some protocols for testing. This means that be it Adani or Nestle or Patanjali, everybody should know that when their product is tested, these are the steps that are going to be followed. Companies should know that this is the kind of the equipment that should be used for testing. So, when these companies manufacture, they know the product standard. Today, what is happening is that some labs have machinery which is 15 years old. Most of these people (Adani, Nestle, Patanjali etc), who are in organised retail sector, have international brand value for which quality is very important. So, they adopt all international practices of quality control. May be our (labs’) testing is not of that international level. So, when a newspaper picks it up it gets known. So, we need to have protocols which is what the FSSAI is going to work towards.
The testing of these food products by and large lies with the state FDAs and their food departments. Have you conveyed these messages and measures to state governments also?
FSSAI has to do that. From my ministry, what I am doing is that we also have a scheme for food testing labs. So, through technology, I am trying to map where all the food testing labs are. Then, we are trying to find out from the state governments about their level — whether they are NABL (National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories) accredited, ISO (International Organisation for Standardization) accredited etc. Through my ministry, once we know the labs that do not have accreditation, we will give them a grant to get themselves accredited to NABL. So, that the testing labs have the same level of quality.