Brewing battle between India, European Union over labelling norms threatens liquor supplies

Scotch whisky and some other imported alcoholic beverages may soon go out of stock in Indian outlets if exporters don’t fall in line with India’s labelling regulations.

For the last three months, consignments of the premium whisky from Scotland have not been cleared at Indian ports as they do not have the ingredients listed on the pack. The stricter labelling requirements are part of a 2006 law on food safety and standards that came into force in 2011.

“The Scotch Whisky Association has told us that they are not required to list ingredients in their country. But if they are exporting to India, they have to abide by our rules,” S Dave, Advisor, Food Safety and Standards Authority of India, told Business Line.

With the Customs authorities detaining more than 50 consignments of alcohol so far, the issue is now escalating into a diplomatic row.

The British High Commissioner and the French and the EU Ambassadors to India have written to the Government asking for more time to follow the regulations. They also want the detained consignments released.

“The current ban by the EU on import of some fruits and vegetables from India, including mangoes, could be to put pressure on the country to go soft on food and alcohol exporters from the region,” said a Commerce Ministry official.

New Delhi, however, is not ready to oblige. “We have informed the embassies that the labelling and listing requirements have been in place since 2011. The industry had been asking for more time to meet the demands of one festival season or the other for the past two years. We are not prepared to oblige any more,” said Dave.

The FSSAI has told the foreign manufacturers that they could take back the confiscated consignments or ship them to another country, but they can’t be sold in India.

“The interest of our consumers is important to us. When Indian companies are expected not to flout food safety laws in European countries, they also have to comply with our regulations,” Dave said.

It is not just alcohol, but consignments of other food items such as chocolates, pasta, cheese and some curries have also been held up due to improper labelling.

The FSSAI says that its labelling and listing requirements are in compliance with Codex, the global standards regulator, which is recognised by the World Trade Organisation.

(This article was published on April 29, 2014)
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