Tuesday, June 22, 2010


Labeling provides a means for the consumers to have a better understanding about the nature of contents in a sealed food pack and is an enabling way for the processor or the packer to establish a transparent relationship with his clientele. Though the modern labeling system has come about, not because of any voluntary intention on the part of the industry, abiding by the mandatory stipulations that spell out the responsibility of the processor in letter and spirit is a prerequisite for realizing the objectives of food labeling. Most of the players in the processing sector do comply with the regulations in the statute book but there are many who circumvent the legal provisions by being ambivalent and misleading in the label declaration creating confusion in the minds of the consumers.

Branded products from the established and organized food industry are the most compliant ones when it comes to truthful declaration as the manufacturers of these products have a high stake in protecting their image and reputation. There are many small scale and cottage scale players who are neither aware of the implications of food labeling nor serious about the provisions of labeling because of an "impotent" vigilance system with no "teeth" to punish the violators. The entire blame for such a lax system cannot be placed at the doors of those unable to meet the rigid requirements vis-à-vis labeling as they do not have the wherewithal and the means to understand and appreciate the significance of labeling. How one can expect a small bit player to know about the type of packaging material to be used to give the "best before" date for his product or the type of quality deterioration that can be encountered in his products. Governments at the center and the state levels have failed in their responsibility to educate this category of processors about their role in protecting the consumer from quality and safety related defaults.

Another category of packers in the food sector who fail to understand the importance of labeling is the commodity dealers who sell food grains like cereals, millets, pulses, oil seeds etc in gunny bags for bulk supply and in small retail packs in improvised packing modes to consumers. There is practically no information on theses packs regarding the variety of grains packed or the chemical, physical and nutritional characteristics of the contents, though legally they are supposed to provide such information under the prevalent regulations. How else a consumer will know about the type of rice he is buying, its age and cooking characteristics and nutritional details? Thanks to the dramatic growth of Basmati rice exports during the last one decade, branding is slowly being tried where the particular variety is prominently mentioned for recognition by the consumer. There are at least a dozen varieties of rice in the market and the names continuously change from time to time depending what arrives at the market from the growing regions.

The rice marketing is further complicated by the varying characteristics of processed rice grains like boiled, parboiled, steamed, cured and aged, pasty or grainy during cooking. How far any attempt to bring an order into this trade can succeed is uncertain as there are neither bench mark scientific standards nor dependable quality testing infrastructure, available for the purpose. In some of the predominant rice eating countries like Taiwanese China, rice dealers are required to declare the varieties packed by law and violations are not condoned reflecting the importance attached to this legal provision to safeguard the consumer interest. Recent introduction of some rice varieties claiming low glycaemic index or high fiber in the Indian market does not make any sense as such claims are unilateral not supported by evidence. GOI's erstwhile Paddy Processing Research Center at Thiruvayur, TN was dedicated to rice research till it was rechristened as Agricultural Crop Processing Technology Institute, diluting its focus. This Center should have been entrusted with the task of evolving chemical and physical standards for different varieties of rice marketed in the country. Unfortunately the various Agri Varsities dolling out degrees in hundreds, do not seem to be too much concerned about the chaos that prevails in rice industry. Food Standards and Safety Authority of India has no time for such "mundane" aspects of food quality as it is busy with its own "agenda" of "grand standing" and "self glorification"!


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