A legislation that came into force last year has forced the tea industry to conform to international norms, while keeping its focus on product quality intact.
The law — Food Safety and Standards Act — that came into force from August 5, 2011, dictates that all food establishments and manufacturing units have to either procure licence or get these registered with the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) before August 4 in accordance with their turnover.
To prepare organisations associated with the tea industry to face the upcoming challenges of the act, Tea Board, in association with CII Food and Agriculture Centre of Excellence, organised awareness programmes at Jorhat on June 27 and at Golaghat on June 28. The idea behind the events was to ensure that all the stakeholders understood FSSAI regulations while maintaining quality and food safety standards in their products. About 75 tea estates and bought leaf factories participated in the events.
The event provided an insight was also provided into the critical steps to food safety — a set of guidelines issued by the ministry of health and family welfare through the act for all organisations managing food and beverage operations to ensure implement good hygiene and good manufacturing practices.
The guidelines state that no tea shall contain any additive or processing aid unless it is in accordance with the provisions of the act and regulations made there under, and no tea shall contain any contaminant, naturally occurring toxic substances or toxins or heavy metals in excess of quantities as may be specified by regulations.
On pesticides, it says that no tea shall contain insecticides or pesticide residues, solvent residues, pharmacologically active substances and microbiological counts in excess of limits specified by regulations. No insecticide shall be used directly on tea leaves except fumigants registered and approved under the Insecticides Act, 1968.
On the presence of chemicals, it says that pesticides, insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, weedicides, microbials should be used in the gardens in accordance with the approved list and be sprayed in accordance with the recommended dosage recommended by Tea Research Association and United Planters’ Association of Southern India.
One of the provisions says flavoured tea shall be sold or offered for sale only by those manufacturers who are registered with Tea Board. Registration number should also be mentioned on the label. It shall be sold only in packed conditions with label declaration as provided in the Regulation 2.4.5 (23) of Food Safety and Standards (Packaging and Labelling) regulations, 2011.
“Domestic consumers have the right to get tea which is safe and hygienic as consumers demand globally,” Indrani Ghose, principal counsellor, CII Food and Agriculture Centre of Excellence, told The Telegraph.
The Tea Board is taking a scientific approach to sort out the problems of different regulatory issues.
Colour adulteration is strictly prohibited from the consumer health point of view and colouring of tea has gradually become a matter of serious concern these days.
Sources said the treatment of teas with various colouring chemicals comes under the head of adulterants.
There are occasional reports that sub-standard tea leaves are coloured with Bismark brown, potassium blue, turmeric and indigo, to impart colour or gloss to the product.
Tea industry officials say the Tea Board has strongly advised the industry to follow the FSSAI guidelines for not using any colour in tea as violation of the guidelines may attract legal action.
The penal provisions are tough, with penalties ranging between Rs 25,000 and Rs 10 lakh. Moreover, unlicensed food business has been strictly prohibited. A licence can be valid for a period of one to five years.
Bidyananda Barkakoty, chairman, North Eastern Tea Association, said the intention of the FSSA — to bring food safety of our country to international standard — was a welcome step. “There is a possibility that by following the norms laid down in the FSSA, tea may be able to get a better price in the domestic and international markets,” he toldThe Telegraph.
He, however, said it would add to the cost of production.
Dhiraj Kakati, secretary, Assam branch, Indian Tea Association, said the regulations had beneficial aspects and should work well, provided there was no red tape.