With the government pushing the creation of strict product standards across the board, the charge of framing and implementing mandatory standards for all food exports, both packaged and unpackaged, will soon be given to the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) sources told.

The proposal will create a single regulator in the food sector in charge of standards for both inbound and outbound trade and the domestic market.

Currently, the primary mandate of FSSAI is to implement the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, that aims to lay down science-based standards for food items and regulate their manufacture, storage, distribution, sale and import. While the body has become known for keeping an eye on whether retail establishments are selling sub-standard food or not, many within the government have called for the huge organisation to be used more efficiently.

“Globally, the precedent among developed economies is of a single regulator implementing rules and standards for both exports and imports. Apart from standards, the current arrangement will not be changed otherwise as other agencies like the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) will continue to develop export industries while the Export Inspection Council of India (EIC) would continue to perform quality control,” a senior FSSAI official said.

It is not known whether FSSAI’s increased mandate would include all agricultural items or specific processed food categories. India is the largest milk producer in the world and second largest producer of fruits and vegetables, rice and wheat. The sector is crucial to India’s expand exports and counts for a major chunk of foreign exchange earned.

Total agri and processed food exports have been on a downward curve over the past few years, reducing to Rs. 47,287 crore in 2019-20, down from Rs. 56,841 crore in 2018-19. However, the Agriculture Ministry had said back in October that similar exports in the first half of the current financial year had recovered to more than Rs. 53,626 crore.

The Narendra Modi government has pushed hard to institute strict mandatory product, health standards for all merchandise trade items. The Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) has been mandated to quickly set product standards for hundreds of merchandise imports. But senior officials point out that BIS continues to be burdened with a disproportionate workload, vastly more than the current number of available trained officers, academics and research staff would allow.