US plan to place food imports under FDA scrutiny to handicap India

29 Oct 2015


The proposed US legislation that will require agriculture imports to be mandatorily inspected and audited by the US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) will complicate India's food exports to the United States.

The FDA Food Safety Modernisation Act (FSMA) Preventive Controls for Human Food rule is now final, and compliance dates for some businesses begin in September 2016.

Once the law is implemented it will raise costs for Indian exporters sharply, making exports unfeasible in many cases.

Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman is expected to take up the issue in her meeting with US Trade Representative Michael Froman at the Trade Policy Forum in Washington today.

''The agriculture ministry, at a recent dialogue on plant and animal health with US officials, has already pointed out the difficulty that exporters would face if all consignments were to be inspected by USFDA officials. India wants either the law to be repealed or some relaxations made in terms of allowing Indian agencies to carry out the inspection,'' reports quoting commerce ministry sources said.

The legislation, called the US Food Safety Modernisation Act of 2011, includes a series of bills that would come into force over a period of time.

The Act requires large-scale exporters to register themselves with the USFDA for inspection and audits by 2017 and medium- and small-scale exporters in the following two years respectively.

India's agriculture exports to the US is already on a downslide, falling to less than $2 billion last year compared with $3.7 billion two years ago, due to an overall slowdown in demand and falling commodity prices.

''It is a serious issue for Indian exporters, as getting consignments physically inspected by USFDA officials would require resources for their travel, stay and other expenses, including inspection fee. Inspections may also delay shipments. Moreover, getting audits done by the USFDA would require exporters to furnish information in a way many are not used to,'' the official quoted above said. Some small exporters may have to shut shop as the additional costs may make their transactions unfeasible.

New Delhi wants that if the US goes ahead with the law it should have a confirmatory assessment system, whereby a certification of quality given by India's local standards bodies such as the Export Inspection Council (EIC) or Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) should be recognised.

''We want that exporters following globally recognised systems, such as the GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices) and the HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points), and certified by the FSSAI, should be recognised by the USFDA,'' the official said.

India's primary agriculture exports to the US include guar gum, basmati rice, honey, cereals, processed/fresh fruits and vegetables, milled products, non-basmati rice and jaggery.

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