Earlier this year in February, FSSAI had issued a directive that all food products containing maida (a finely milled, refined and bleached wheat flour) were to be relabelled as ‘refined wheat flour’ as opposed to ‘wheat flour’.
“It has been observed that [food companies] are using maida (wheat flour) on the label of the food products, which does not convey the exact nature of [the] ingredient,” said FSSAI Regulatory Compliance Joint Director Parveen Jargar in the order letter.
“[As such, after detailed examination, it has been decided that] maida should be relabelled as ‘Refined Wheat Flour (Maida)’ wherever the same is used as singly or as ingredient in food items (sic).”
Atta (wholemeal wheat flour) was initially also set to be relabelled as ‘Whole Wheat Flour (Atta)’. The deadline to relabel products containing both types of flour was set for April 30 this year, giving companies three months to comply.
The difference between atta and maida is significant, especially when it comes to food companies making health claims about the wheat component in products.
According to DNA India, medical experts have deemed maida less beneficial for health, especially for those with medical conditions such as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).
“PCOS [is a common condition in women that can lead to hormonal imbalances] and high insulin levels. [It] is important [for them] to eat foods to help maintain blood sugar levels and avoid refined foods [such as those with maida] that could cause a spike,” it said.
That said, Jargar issued another order on the April 30 deadline announcing the extension of the initial order by a further three month to July 31 due to ‘representations received from various Industry Associations and [food companies]’.
“Considering [these] submissions, [FSSAI has] decided to [extend the time period for compliance] of the previous order] by another three months, i.e. up to July 31 2019,” said Jargar.
Additionally, further adjustments have been made to the original directive, whereby labels using India’s local Devanagiri script have now been allowed to continue using the Hindi nomenclature ‘atta’ for wheat flour and ‘maida’ for refined wheat flour.
Atta flour will also no longer be labelled as ‘whole wheat flour’, but as ‘wheat flour’.
The rules governing the labelling of the various wheat flours falls under Section 16 (5) of the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006.
Fifth postponement this year
This postponement is the fifth one announced by FSSAI this year in relation to food products (excluding regulations related to food service).
Last month, the agency delayed its enforcement of the Food Safety and Standards (Organic Foods) Regulations 2017 by one year. These regulations were set to be enforced starting April 1, but FSSAI issued a new order for small organic firms relaxing these rules for them, again due to the agency ‘receiving several representations (sic)’ about the ‘challenges faced in implementation’.
“One of the challenges is that [many] of the producers are not certified under [either of India’s two organic certification systems], the National Programme for Organic Production (NPOP) and Participatory Guarantee System-India (PGS-India),” said FSSAI CEO Pawan Agarwal.
“Efforts are currently underway [to make] PGS-India more small producer friendly, [and] in the interim [we have decided to deem the Regulations to be] ‘Enabling Regulations’, which means that small organic firms] will not be considered for prosecution during the initial phase of its implementation till April 1 2020.”
Additionally, standards related to honey quality which were initially scheduled for enforcement in January this year saw certain elements of this (regarding rice syrup and oligosaccharides) postponed to June 30 2019, again after the agency saw ‘representation from various stakeholders’.
The use of staple pins in tea bags has been postponed twice, from January 2018 to January 2019 and then to June 2019, after requests from food firms.
The enforcement of implementation of alcohol warning labels in the country was set to start on April 1 after a year’s transition period. FSSAI announced on April 4 that this transition period had been extended by six more months and alcoholic beverages manufactured prior to this date could still be sold in the market up to March 31 2020.