The US-based law firm said the new regulations added to the statute book in over the past two years had laid the foundations for a more comprehensive legal framework but that issues remained.
One of the challenges highlighted by Devon W. Hill and Daniel C. Rubenstein is that plastics currently used in FCMs as a result of industry advances may not comply with the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS). This is because of the procedural difficulties in updating these standards so they reflect existing industry practices, said the experts.
Since 2006, the Indian Government has been introducing measures to integrate and consolidate pre-existing laws and standards into a single framework. This began with the Food Safety and Standards Act of 2006 and the establishment of a national food safety agency - the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI).
The body was tasked with developing science-based standards and methods to evaluate food and FCMs. This has resulted in the Food Safety and Standards published first in October 2010 and updated a year later.
The regulation is divided into six individual legislative titles, including a section on packaging and labelling.
This defined packaged food as that “placed in a package of any nature, in such a manner that the contents cannot be changed without tampering it and which is ready for sale to the consumer".
“The food packaging requirements are broad in nature, and reflect a recurring theme that food-contact materials shall not render the food unsafe for consumption,” said the authors.
But while this is important major emphasis is also “placed on the ability of the consumer to be able to make an independent determination that the content of the packaged food is safe for consumption through visual inspection,” they added.
The law also highlights the necessity of package integrity and the need for it not to make the food unsafe.
National standards versus best practice
The regulations refer to 10 types of plastic packaging materials - including polyethylene, PET, polypropylene and PVC - which were previously defined by the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) and the problem that industry players face in their harmonisation with current best industry practice.
Indian authorities are insisting that FCM plastics comply with the applicable standards, said Keller and Heckman but noted that many of these standards are out of date.
Hill and Rubenstein said: “Recognising that many of these Standards have not been updated for some time, however, and further that the process for petitioning for amendment of these Standards remains somewhat ambiguous, and certainly very laborious and time consuming, many advancements in food-packaging composition and manufacturing technology which have taken place in recent years may not be covered by a relevant IS Standard.”
Other requirements for food packaging include: milk and milk products, edible fats and oils; fruits and vegetables; canned meat products and bottled water.
Finally, the Contaminants, Toxins and Residues Title relates to the food itself rather than the packaging, said the company. However, it adds that the migration of substances from packaging should not render the food unfit for consumption.
Contaminants are specified both by chemical composition, as well as by type of food product in which such substances may be present.
Metal contaminants, for example – which include lead, copper, arsenic, tin, zinc, cadmium, mercury, chromium and nickel - are limited to specified values based on their potential presence in foods including fruit and vegetables, juice, infant formula, and in many instances, all ‘other foods’. These limits are specified in parts per million (ppm) unless otherwise stated.
The new regime will take time to be fully implemented and integrating given their scope and the nascent nature of the legal framework, said the lawyers.
“Nevertheless, the implementation of FSSA represents an important step toward increasing regulatory oversight and predictability pertaining to food safety in one of the world's largest markets," the pair added.