India’s US food exports refusal rate 7 times higher than China’s – The Indian Express

A total of 3,925 human food export shipments from India were refused entry at US customs in the last four years, as per data available with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Of these, 953 shipments (24 per cent) were refused entry for being “filthy” and 786 shipments (20 per cent) were refused for containing salmonella, a bacteria that causes severe stomach infections. The most frequent product categories to face entry refusals were spices, vitamins, minerals and proteins, bakery products, and seafood products.
Food imports from India, Mexico, and China saw the highest number of refusals between October 2019 and September 2023, which corresponds to the latest four US federal fiscal years. A total of 5,374 food export shipments from Mexico were refused, followed by 3,925 shipments from India, and 2,340 shipments from China. India’s food exports refusal rate, which refers to the percentage of shipments refused out of all food export shipments sent, however, stood at 0.15 per cent during this period, seven times China’s rate of 0.022 per cent and six times Mexico’s rate of 0.025 per cent.
Incidentally, refusal of food export shipments from India has seen a downward trend in the last decade in absolute terms, from a peak of 1,591 refusals in 2015 to 1,033 refusals in 2023. A study by the US Department of Agriculture published in 2022, howeve., did attest to the fact that between 2002 and 2019, India had the most pathogen-related violations with 5,115 food import refusals out of over 22,000 pathogen and toxin violations that were identified, a share of 22.9 per cent. Mexico came in second with a 13.9 per cent share followed by Vietnam with an 8.6 per cent share.
“Even though Mexico had the most refusals in 2008 and 2011, shipments from India were denied more frequently than those from other countries over the entire study period (between 2002 and 2019). These violations were primarily from Salmonella contamination,” the study noted.
MDH Spices, which generated a revenue of Rs 1,759 crore in FY22, saw a refusal rate of 9.95 per cent for all human food shipments exported to the US between October 2019 and September 2023, which corresponds to the latest four US federal fiscal years. In other words, 62 out of 623 food export shipments sent by MDH to the US were refused entry.
As per FDA’s data, the charges against all 62 shipments, which were spices related products, include that of salmonella contamination. FDA’s Charge 9, which concerns adulteration, makes shipments “subject to refusal of admission… in that it appears to contain Salmonella, a poisonous and deleterious substance which may render it injurious to health” was applied to all 62 shipments exported by MDH which were refused entry. According to FDA’s procedures, if a shipment is refused entry, the importer can either destroy it or export it out of the US. FDA does not share data on what happens to shipments once they are refused entry.
MDH’s export shipments to the US fell consistently, from 172 in 2020 to 101 in 2023. However, the refusal rate increased to 15 per cent in 2023 from 11.3 per cent in 2020. FDA also physically inspected MDH’s manufacturing plant in January 2022, during which it noted that the “plant did not have adequate sanitary facilities and accommodations.” It also observed that the plant’s “equipment and utensils were not designed and constructed to be adequately cleaned or maintained to protect against contamination.” MDH did not respond to a detailed questionnaire despite multiple reminders.
Nestle India’s refusal rate in the latest four US federal fiscal years stood at 3.7 per cent, a total of 110 shipments out of 2965 shipments exported to the US. Majority of Nestle’s refused shipments were of noodles and related products. The most frequent charge levelled against Nestle’s refused shipments was of the products consisting “in whole or in part of a filthy, putrid, or decomposed substance or be otherwise unfit for food.” The second and third most frequent charges were related to the misbranding of nutritional labels and ingredients information. There is no record of inspections conducted by the FDA at Nestle India’s plants during the said time period. Nestle did not respond to a detailed questionnaire as it was observing a silent period prior to releasing its quarterly financial results.
Patanjali Ayurved’s refusal rate stood at 2.37 per cent, with a total of 38 shipments refused. These shipments were of herbals & botanicals and vegetable oils. The charges against Patanjali included using an unapproved new drug, misbranding of nutritional labels, and using an unsafe food additive. In 2021, FDA inspected Patanjali’s plants in Haridwar twice and made a total of twelve comments.
During the inspection, FDA noted that Patanjali’s “documentation for laboratory tests and examinations did not include the results of the testing and examination” and that it “did not use effective measures to protect against the inclusion of metal or other foreign material in dietary supplements.” FDA also highlighted that Patanjali was “not monitoring the sanitation conditions and practices with sufficient frequency” and that it “did not conduct operations under conditions and controls necessary to minimise the potential for growth of microorganisms.” Patanjali did not respond to a detailed questionnaire despite multiple reminders.
In 2023 so far, FDA has carried out fifteen inspections in India, including at TATA Consumer Products’ and Parle Products’ plants. It found that TATA Consumer Products’ “plant was not constructed and designed to facilitate maintenance and sanitary operations” and that Parle Products’ “equipment and utensils were not designed and constructed to be adequately cleaned or maintained to protect against contamination.” As per FDA’s data, no TATA Consumer Products’ export shipments have faced refusals in the latest four US federal fiscal years, while a total of 22 export shipments sent by Parle Products were refused, mostly for containing an unsafe colour additive. Both TATA and Parle did not respond when asked for comments.
Hindustan Unilever Limited’s refusal rate stood at 0.9 per cent, mostly for products like mixed fruit, jam, jelly, preserves, and marmalade for containing unsafe colour additives. The company did not respond when asked for comments.
Ramdev Food Products, a food exports company based out of Gujarat, saw a refusal rate of 0.49 per cent primarily for spices and related products for containing salmonella. Kader Exports, based out of Andhra Pradesh, saw a refusal rate of 3 per cent for shrimps and prawns related products, again for salmonella contamination. Tulsi Foods, also a Gujarat-based company which began exporting two years ago, saw a refusal rate of 6.59 per cent due to issues related to FDA’s foreign supplier verification program.
India’s food exports to the US stood at $1.45 billion in FY23, a 16 per cent increase from $1.25 billion in FY22, as per APEDA data. India’s top food export to the US in FY23 was basmati rice ($239 million), followed by miscellaneous preparations ($198 million), natural honey ($173 million), guar gum ($149 million), and cereal preparations ($125 million). APEDA and FSSAI did not respond when asked for comments.
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