Independence but not freedom

Now packaged goods are subject to an increasingly regulatory and extended responsibility environment

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In India’s humongous, largely ‘unorganized’ market for consumer and pharma goods also, the hitherto ‘free for all’ or ‘laissez faire’ is being replaced by more scrutiny and more standards, guidelines and compliance needs. On the occasion of India’s 71st Independence Day, it seems appropriate to review some of them here.

A few days ago, Prime minister Narendra Modi, speaking on 15 August 2017 said, “If each one of us, irrespective of where he belongs, strives with a new resolve, a new energy, a new strength, we can change the face of the country with our combined strength in the 75th year of our Independence by 2022. It will be the New India – a secure, prosperous and strong nation.” Prime Minister Modi has reminded us that freedom is not a one-way street. Freedom comes with responsibility. That responsibility is a combined responsibility towards nation building; towards community; towards environment and towards security.
In his speech, PM Modi went on to say, “Lokmanya Tilak Ji had said, ‘Swaraj is my birthright.’ In Independent India our Mantra should be ‘Good Governance is my birthright.’ ‘Suraja’ or ‘Good Governance’ should be our collective responsibility. The citizens should fulfill their duties and the government too should discharge its responsibilities.”

In fact it is often argued that in its mission to deliver Good Governance, the Modi government is infringing on too much of the freedom we had taken for granted. We are not entirely free to choose what we eat. Our privacy is under scrutiny. We cannot speak freely on social media. We are not free to watch or read what we want. And so on.

However, when viewed in the perspective of nation building – towards a New India – many of the above-mentioned curbs on freedom need to be seen as steps towards creating a resurgent India or a new global identity for India. Perhaps, as PM Nehru put it in the end, “Freedom brings responsibilities and burdens and we have to face them in the spirit of a free and disciplined people.”

This drive towards being ‘free but disciplined people’ is evident from many of the actions and programs of the government today. While demonetization and GST roll-out were direct attempts at more Regulation and Compliance, the other initiatives like Swacch Bharat, Skill India, Digital India, Make in India and many such others are aimed at encouraging freedom with responsibility.

In India’s humongous, largely ‘unorganized’ market for consumer and pharma goods also, the hitherto ‘free for all’ or ‘laissez faire’ is being replaced by more scrutiny and more standards, guidelines and compliance needs. On the occasion of India’s 71st Independence Day, it seems appropriate to review some of them here.

Regulating freedom to produce and sell packaged food

Till not long ago food entrepreneurs were free – or loosely controlled – by a number of ambiguous or outdated standards, to produce and sell food in whatever manner they chose. As we all know by now, The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) was established in 2006 to lay down science based standards for articles of food and to regulate their manufacture, storage, distribution, sale and import so that only safe and wholesome food is offered for human consumption. The words ‘an independent statutory authority’ are notable here. The aim of FSSAI is to establish a ‘single line of command’ and a single reference point for all matters relating to food safety and standards instead of a hitherto multiplicity of levels and departments overseeing fragmented aspects of food safety. As a consequence many outdated Acts and Orders dating as far back as 1947 or 1954, relating to Food Adulteration, Fruit or Edible Oil or Dairy or Meat production were repealed and replaced by the FS&S Act 2006.

Significantly, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has been made the administrative ministry responsible for the implementation of FSSAI. This concern for the health and wellness of food consumers over and above any commercial or trade considerations synergizes with similar public health concerns regarding packaged food over most parts of the world nowadays.

For example, European Commission (EC) Directives are quoted in the Food Safety magazine as: ‘Since its very beginning, European action in the domain of food trade has moved towards the phasing in of safety obligations, as well as more integration, mutual cooperation and assistance between public authorities. Although still permeated with marked considerations, early EC directives on product safety already show increasing care about health. This is evident if only one pays attention to the 1992 directive on general product safety which states that ‘safe product shall mean any product which does not present any risk or only the minimum risks compatible with the product’s use, considered as acceptable and consistent with a high level of protection for the safety and health of persons (Directive 92/59/EEC now replaced by Directive 2001/95/EC).’ (Ref: http://www.foodsafetymagazine.com/enewsletter/)

The overarching aim, as Food Safety magazine goes on to say, is that products placed on the EU market must be safe. It observes that, as of today, European food safety has a well-planned strategy integrating both community and individual national requirements. A Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) and an intensive training program are in place and managed by the Commission Services under the ambit of EU food law regulation EC No 178/02, called the General Food Law (GFL).

In India the FSSAI too has been mandated by the FS&S Act, 2006 to per form – broadly, the following functions:

  • Frame regulations and guidelines for production, packaging and vending of food
  • Lay down procedures for accrediting certification bodies for food safety management
  • Lay down procedures for accreditation of food testing laboratories
  • Provide scientific advice and technical support to government regarding food safety and nutrition
  • Collect data regarding food consumption, risk assessment, adulteration and development of a rapid alert system.
  • Disseminate reliable and objective information about food safety among consumers and urban and rural centers.
  • Contribute to development of international standards for food hygiene and phyto-sanitary requirements for import or export.
  • Promote general awareness of food safety and standards.

Lately, we understand, the Food Safety and Standards (Packaging and Labeling) Regulation, 2011 has also been re-drafted and a new set of detailed regulations and guidelines for safe packaging materials and labeling declarations are about to be announced.

There can be no denying that the need for such stringent regulations to curb laissez faire (and gross misuse) of packaging freedom is imperative for public health. The statutory regulations governing packaging and advertising of chewing tobacco, cigarettes and alcohol have already been strictly implemented. Many incidents in the recent past regarding food packaging have also focused upon the need for more compliance on food packaging safety. Some of the well-known cases that can be mentioned are:

  • Instant noodles – labeling mis-declaration and excess heavy metal in product
  • n Dairy chocolates – worm infestation due to poor sealing of packaging
  • n Metal cans – Bisphenol – A (BADGE) based lacquer coating
  • n Boxboard mono-cartons – mineral oil contamination
  • n Printing inks – benzophenone contamination
  • n Baby milk powder – ITX photo-initiator contamination from UV Inks

Clearly then packaged food manufacturers face a challenging task to innovate freely and yet operate within an environment of a variety of unknown risks. Those risks can vary from glass shards, metal particles, inedible inks, un-labeled allergens, E coli outbreaks to food contaminated by inattentive or poorly trained employees. As Food Safety magazine puts it, “The list can go on indefinitely, but the result will always be the same: the high regulatory pressure on the food operator and its business. The latter indeed ends up facing several ‘counterparts’ at the same time, namely clients, control authorities, media and consumers. Consequently, the continuity of the business may be jeopardized by a significant and serious regulatory action from the public authority such as seizures, product recall and destruction, civil fines and even the possibility of criminal charges.”

Regulation of freedom to waste and litter

From cigarette packets in the gutter to chips packets and PET bottles in lakes and on mountain sides, the litter problem around the world is extensive – and particularly so in our cities and villages. Municipalities are now beginning to ask, ‘Can business pick up the slack where government has fallen short?’ Concerns for the well-being of the future environment and sustainability are leading to the vision of the ‘circular economy’ where all post-consumer packaging waste goes back to re-cycling or re-use.

In its bid to curb the freedom to litter and bring a sense of responsibility the government notified The Municipal Solid Wastes (Management & Handling) Rules, 2000 and later the Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016 which extend even up to the village level where use of plastic has permeated. The Rules aim to ensure that proper plastic waste management processes are followed under all jurisdictions.

A key and contentious aspect of the Plastic Waste Management Rules is the concept of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) which places the burden of responsibility on the product manufacturer (or brand marketer) to work with municipalities to arrange for collecting, recycling or sustainable disposal of the packaging waste created by consumers.
EPR schemes are new to India but around the world there are said to be over 400 EPR schemes already in operation and most of them are mandatory. As per an article in The Guardian, ‘Within the UK, packaging, electrical and electronic goods, batteries and cars are all subject to EPR requirements through various EU directives. Outside of the UK, countries such as France and Japan have taken EPR a lot further. France has 14 mandatory EPR schemes in place covering additional product streams including furniture, tyres and infectious healthcare waste. Japan has an extensive EPR law that covers the lifecycle of products from various industries – part of this legislation requires manufacturers to use recycled materials and reusable parts in new products.’

In India while the concept of EPR is articulated in the Plastic Waste Management Rules the detailed methodology to be followed and a consensus among the various municipalities around the country is still to evolve. Leading corporate groups are taking the lead in evolving practices under their CSR initiatives and a few start-up companies such as www.pompom.in or www.terrapro.in are venturing into this promising field.

Some progressive municipalities in Indian states have demonstrated the benefits of responsible waste management. The Center for Science and Environment has conducted a detailed survey around the country and published the findings in a book titled, Not in My Backyard.

In the end, to quote PM Nehru again, “Freedom and power bring responsibility.” In our quest to produce world class packaged products we are independent and have the freedom to make our choices. But growing consumer awareness and environment concerns appear to be narrowing the free-space for packaging innovation. We must be increasingly responsible to our consumers and to our surroundings.

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Deepak Manchanda
An engineering graduate from BITS, Pilani and a Post-Graduate Diploma from Milan, Italy in Human Factors Engineering. Over 40 years of work experience in branding, packaging design & development. Worked as head of as Head of Packaging at Oriflame – Silver Oak; Dabur India and Ranbaxy Laboratories. Currently - an Associate with The Packaging Consortium – a packaging development consultancy. Worked closely with Jindal Polymer Films for Application Development of Specialty Films for flexible packaging. Now a packaging consultant for some reputed companies. He is also an Associate Director with Firstouch Solutions – a design company providing services in Brand Comm, Packaging, Exhibitions and Branded Retail Environments. He is closely associated with the Indian Institute of Packaging as a Member of the Northern Regional Committee. He is also active as a contributor to Packaging South Asia magazine and other journals and at forums and conferences. Has been writing articles on packaging design and marketing for Packaging South Asia since 2007.

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