South Asia radius

Regulator orders food firms to do more to address consumer complaints

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India’s food regulator has met with food companies and state inspectors to raise concerns over their response to consumer complaints mostly concerning packaging. 

The move came after it was revealed that some 1,700 grievances were raised in the last eight months—most of which have gone unresolved.

The meeting was to find ways to establish a “robust, effective and efficient system of redressing consumer complaints” ahead of a training programme for industry figures to focus on consumer rights.

Between last June and February this year, a total of 1,722 complaints were registered with the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India’s response platform, of which 1,307 were about packaging. A further 415 consumers complained about food service issues, 98 raised concerns about adulteration and 74 reported expired foods.

Though the FSSAI hasn’t provided detail on the number of completed investigations, it said a “large number” were still pending.

"The food safety authority will soon come up with quantifiable metrics to accurately gauge the performance and efficiency of each food business operator vis-a-vis their resolution of consumer complaints. We want to make sure that no complaint goes unresolved," said Pawan Agarwal, FSSAI chief executive. 

"The food business operators should be sensitised to the rights of consumers, particularly their right to quick and satisfactory resolution of their complaints.”

Ashish Bahuguna, chairman of the regulator added: “We regret that companies, particularly the larger ones, were prone to complacency when it came to consumer complaints. This has to change. They should understand that criticism is good, and start to take it as a learning experience.”

For years seen by many in the industry as an impenetrable, bureaucratic black hole in the face of companies and consumers, the FSSAI has opened up to the public since Agarwal took the reins following the Maggi noodles scandal in 2015, which proved embarrassing for the regulator. It now offers eight platforms for consumers to make complaints, including through social media, WhatsApp and a toll-free care line.

A customer service team then decides whether to refer a complaint to the food company concerned, or a state enforcement agency, for action within a set timescale.

In an bid to make this process work better, the regulator has ordered businesses to nominate a “nodal officer” with responsibility to redress complaints. It will also set up a communications network that will allow state regulatory authorities to collaborate. 

This network will bring more coherence in the efforts of maintaining food safety standards in the country but shall also reduce the response time to the exigencies emerging out of food safety issues,” the FSSAI said in a statement. 

The aim of this is to “empower citizens in a big way to have direct access to regulatory staff”.

 

More from South Asia…

Market update: Adverse weather drives Sri Lankan tea prices higher

Prices for Sri Lankan high-grown, fanning-grade tea peaked in early February and remain up on 2016 by 32%. 

This spike was prompted by overall tea production on the island last year, which saw pickings fall to their lowest level in seven years, at just under 300m kg—down 11% year on year. At the same time, exports were down to 288m kg, the lowest in 14 years. 

According to Mintec, the commodities analyst, this was mainly due to erratic weather conditions for most of the year, as well as poor fertiliser use and a government ban on pesticides. 

Last year’s supply situation was further complicated by trade union protests, as plantation workers railed over increased daily workloads and demanding higher wages. 

Despite higher prices and reduced supplies, global demand for Sri Lankan tea has remained firm, with Russia, Iran, Iraq and Turkey the biggest importers. 

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