In July, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) is likely to publically consult on draft standards for the whole spectrum of alcoholic beverages – wine, spirits, beer – to set maximum permissible alcohol limits in branded products on the grounds of public safety.
But Pramod Krishna, president of the Confederation of Indian Alcoholic Beverage Companies (CIABC) told this publication that his body (which represents leading players such as Diageo, Bacardi Martini, and Beam Global) was taking legal action to stop the FSSAI regulating alcoholic drinks.
Reinventing the wheel?
Under the Food Safety Standards Act (2006) – which was only implemented last summer – the FSSAI has such powers, since the law defines alcoholic drinks as ‘food’.
“We have filed a writ in Bombay High Court in relation to that. The reason for that is very simple – the constitution mandates that alcoholic drinks are a state subject, and for all practical purposes they are under the excise laws of the states,” Krishna told BeverageDaily.com.
“The Food Safety Standards Act is going to be implemented by the Ministry of Health, and our concern is that, if the alcoholic beverage industry comes under two regulators – this will create problems of good governance,” he added.
But surely national standards to govern issues such as alcohol limits, grains and water content would raise standards and ensure product quality across India?
“On quality we have no issues – I head up an organisation [the CIABC] that represents all the multinational companies [in wines and spirits] so there are no issues in that respect,” Krishna replied.
“We are opposed to new standards being formulated when we have good standards existing in the form of BIS standards (Bureau of Indian Standards) that we have worked with over the last 15 years – that account for trade, health, consumer and scientific interests.”
He added: “Why reinvent the wheel when so much work has already gone into it [the BIS standards], and these standards are accepted by both multinational and domestic companies – for various categories in wines and spirits?”
FSSAI ‘flexing muscles’
Most Indian states had excise policies stating that BIS standards were mandatory, so the country should have adequate testing facilities, while the Indian alcoholic drinks industry already worked hard to ensure quality and safety. “So adequate compliance is taking place now,” Krishna said.
The FSSAI had yet to answer the Bombay High Court writ, Krishna said, with the court now in summer recess until June 12; state government opposition to the FSSAI measures was also rising, he added.
“Now the excise department has woken up to the problems that could arise if the FSSAI decides to start flexing their muscles, both in terms of licensing, labelling, import regulations. The problem is multiplicity of regulators – that’s it,” Krishna said.
An FSSAI spokesman referred BeverageDaily.com to FSSAI president, Shri Mohanty, who was unavailable for comment.