FSSAI labelling requirement puts wine industry on backfoot

Written by Nanda Kasabe | Pune | Updated: Aug 29 2014, 08:05am hrs
A new Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) notification that makes it mandatory for all foods and alcoholic beverages to list all ingredients used on their label, in Devnagri or English, has caught domestic winemakers and importers on the backfoot.

Till last year, anyone could get an import-export code and import wines from overseas under an Open General Licence. Since April this year, all importers have to comply with labelling requirements laid down by FSSAI which mandates that all ingredients used in the production of a beverage must be printed on labels. A product also requires testing in 'approved labs'. The rule doesn't apply to single ingredient foods. Alcoholic beverages, which contain additives including colour, water, and preservatives, should carry such labels, which is not always possible for international manufacturers who consider India a small market.

The Indian wine industry has so far been working on establishing `wine standards' for the country. Now even domestic wineries will have to comply with the labelling requirements of FSSAI.

According to industry sources, close to 50 containers (each consists of around 9,000 bottles) were stopped at the Mumbai port recently because they failed to meet the new labelling requirements of India. According to industry representatives, there are technical differences in FSSAI rules and Codex. Many spirits in other countries are single ingredient spirits though in India they aren't considered thus. Winemakers in India argue that since wine is a single ingredient, it should not require any kind of labelling.

According to Jagdish Holkar, chairman, India Grape Processing Board (IGPB), the board has been in touch with international bodies on this issue and these are of the opinion that since wine is a natural product and is a single ingredient, labelling should not be emphasised. India imports around 500,000 cases of wine annually.

At present, wines come under the Bureau of Indian Standards. Now, importers have to register with FSSAI first before bringing wines into the country. However, the new directive has led to confusion in the industry since work has already been in progress on creating a standard labelling format for the industry, Holkar said.

"There are around 20 odd parameters which are being considered by the industry, including tolerance levels, ingredients, alcohol content, MRP, manufacturers name and address. Because of the new label standards, wineries and importers have to report to three enforcement bodies FSSAI, Legal Metrology and excise departments. And this is a lengthy process," he added.

IGPB plans to hold an industry meet by September10 and will then prepare a note that will go into appeal before the Union ministry. The wine industry is just getting back on its feet and so the government should treat this sunrise industry in a lenient manner, Holkar said. The wine standards may take a year before enforcement and wine registration before setting up the standards does not make much sense, he pointed out.

Shivajirao Aher, president, All India Wine Producers Association said the industry has been in a consultative mode on how to tackle the issue.Wineries are not opposing the move but may require some time until the labelling process can be rolled out, he said.

Another industry member who did not wish to be named revealed that several wineries were opposed to the move since wines contain only grape juice and yeast. There is no logic in this kind of a labelling process, he said.

IGPB has been working on a comprehensive legislation to regulate wine-making and improving industry standards for a couple of years. The objective is to create an identity for Indian wines in the international market.

India has accepted membership of the International Organization on Vine and Wine and this would entail adopting wine-related international rules, regulations and laws. At present, there are no laws or regulations regarding the manufacture of grape wine. The legislation is expected to help bring laws regarding manufacture of wine, quality, brand and marketing. However, the process may take a year at least.