Civil society organisations have asked the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) to withdraw the provision requiring even small manufacturers to get all their food products tested and lab reports uploaded onto a portal.

A recent FSSAI order directed all the FBOs (food business operators that manufacture, re-pack and re-label) to carry out the tests and upload the results.

Alleging that the order would kill small FBOs, the ASHA said it would be financially unviable for lakhs for small businesses to conform to the new order.

“This Order from FSSAI seems to have many adverse economic implications for the livelihoods of small as well as medium enterprises of food manufacturing, apart from creating an extremely onerous online mechanism and these will work against many FBOs,” they said in letter addressed to the Chairperson and Chief Executive Officer of the FSSAI.

The signatories included Save Our Rice Network, Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA), Safe Food Alliance, Tamil Nadu Organic Farmers Federation, and Beej Swaraj Abhiyan. 

“The FSSAI’s regulation might push small operators out of business as conforming to the new order will put heavy burden on the FBOs,” it said.

The small FBOs with an annual turnover of less than ₹12 lakh are likely to cause lesser risk in any eventuality and therefore, requires them to only register with the regulator, whereas businesses above ₹12 lakh are required to obtain licenses to operate.

Small operators have a production ceiling of 100 litres or kilograms per day of food products.  Stating that the responsibility of testing food is a responsibility of the government, the association wondered why it is being thrust upon manufacturers themselves?

Heavy financial burden

The alliance said that cost of compliance would be very high, stating that each product would incur a cost between ₹5,000 to ₹19,500. “It costs about ₹10,000 per test for a product. If a business deals with 15-20 products, you can imagine the quantum of the burden,” the letter said.

They questioned how can small businesses, which are required to register with the authority, could bear these costs. It would be a burden for others who are slightly above the ₹12-lakh ceiling. 

“Who is going to reimburse the amount to them,” they asked.

They also pointed out the lack of testing lab infrastructure to support applications from lakhs of manufacturers that are supposed to comply with the order.

“A penalty of ₹100 a day will be levied if reports are uploaded beyond the stated deadline,” it said.