Monday, September 30, 2013 IST
The TÜV Rheinland Group is a leading provider oftechnical services worldwide. TUV Rheinland India was started 17 years ago as a 100% subsidiary of the parent group. In 2010, the company opened material testing laboratory to cater to industrial safety by analytical testing. In India, as also in many other developing countries, adulterators are always one step ahead of the safety agencies when it comes to detecting adulteration and their techniques are increasingly becoming more and more sophisticated with time, reveals Enrico Ruhle, managing director, TUV Rheinland India, in an email interaction with Nandita Vijay. Excerpts:
How would you describe the current food adulteration scene in India?
Food adulteration in India seems to be getting deadlier by the day. First we had some unscrupulous dairy farmers in western Uttar Pradesh inventing synthetic milk which was a deadly cocktail of urea, caustic soda and vegetable oil. Then we had reports of fruits, particularly mangoes, being ripened with calcium carbide and now, there are reports of fish being made to appear fresh with formalin.
In India as also in many other developing countries, adulterators are always one step ahead of the safety agencies when it comes to detecting adulteration and their techniques are increasingly becoming more and more sophisticated with time.No other country can beat India when it comes to food adulteration because this is a country where everyone has unlimited freedom to indulge in such activities with no possibility of retribution. Though food laws that exist are comparable to international ones, there is very little activity at the ground level to monitor or detect adulterated foods in the market or punish the guilty. The Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, passed in 1954 was enforced only on June,1, 1955. Successive amendments have been made to this Act to plug the loopholes and to make it more effective. But in spite of several measures adopted to enforce the Act, agencies and institutions created to put an end to this nefarious practice, could not check adulteration. The ingenuity of the adulterators has now left no food unadulterated.
What are the issues in the Indian market for global majors like yours to seek test assignments?
Indians are no longer restricted to a certain kind of food and local cuisines. Thanks to the lucrative nature of the Indian market, which attracted variety of manufacturers globally to introduce their products here. So now the urban Indian household has multiple options for products and price ranges. As promising as this sounds, this also makes the Indian food market vulnerable in terms of safety and quality. In the battle of the suppliers to establish themselves here and reap as much monetary benefit as possible, quality cannot be forsaken and should be assessed not just as a regulatory requirement.
I picture TUV Rheinland India’s food services to spread its wings and be the approachable partner of quality to everyone from farm to fork, to extend a helping hand to the food ministry for spreading the values of food safety all around and to act as a knowledge base. Having harboured the global icon for quality and safety, we wish to exercise our practices and principles to help reduce the vulnerability of the food safety scenario in India and help the consumers enjoy the multiple options in peace.
As the head of the leading food test company, TÜV Rheinland, what are the efforts slated to control this adulteration in Indian food industry?
TÜV Rheinland has a long history of providing materials testing and inspection services to global customers in accordance with numerous domestic and international requirements. A fullfledged food chemical and microbiology laboratory at Bengaluru, caters to the needs of quality monitoring of food products and trace level analysis of the chemical and microbiological contaminants. Food submitted here is tested for contaminant identification including ingredient cross-contamination, off-colours, off-flavours, or off-odours analysis, packaging trouble-shooting, extractable and leachable testing, foreign object identification, emergency response, hazard analysis, toxicity risk assessment using our latest equipments and advanced test methods. Along with testing, we also work towards building awareness among people as to the nature and extent of food adulteration.
How important is this food and beverage industry in terms of sales and revenue generation?
India is 66-year-old democracy and is still an agri-dependent economy. Agriculture employs 52% of the country’s workforce while contributing 17% to the overall GDP. With the abundant natural resources, fertile land with a wide spectrum of types of soil, India has a lot to give to its own consumers and worldwide. The economy’s dependency on agriculture has reduced in all these years and the contribution of the food and beverage processing industry has increased as well. The growth curve of the food and beverage processing is directly proportional to the sales and revenue for testing laboratories. As much as we want food safety to reach the common man, the safety regulatory requirements form the pinnacle of the laboratory’s operations and revenue.
Give us an overview of the India operations and the kind of investment made here.
Our Indian operations commenced in the year 1996 with Indian headquarters at Bengaluru. We are now spread across the principal business locations in India with our presence in over 20 locations in India.
Under the banner of Product Safety – Testing and Certification we have established laboratories for Chemical Testing, Food Testing, Microbiology,etc. in the year 2010 in Bangalore. We have invested Rs 100 crore till now, of which major chunk is invested in setting up our state of the art laboratories.We have a full-fledged chemical, microbiological and instrumentation facility to cater to the food and beverage testing. The lab is NABL accredited for microbiological and chemical analysis. We are now gearing up for other notable government approvals and contribute to the pivotal tests for various regulatory requirements.
Would the company be servicing testing needs of the emerging markets from India or do you have dedicated centres in these locations?
Currently we are only concentrating on the testing needs pertaining to the Indian market. Having said that we are keeping our eyes and ears open to the emerging markets neighbouring India. Food Safety isn’t a popular topic in this sub-continent and also other notable Asian countries and we wish to utilise our global reach and be present there as well.
Would you be able to share some of the names of the companies you are offering your services to?
The basket of products we can test are Raw & Cooked Foods, Formulated Foods, Raw Meat & Meat Products, Milk & Dairy Products, Poultry Products, Carbonated beverages, Bakery & Confectionary Products, Fruits, Vegetables & their products, Packed & Canned Foods, Oils & Fats, Beverages (Tea, Coffee etc), Gherkins, Ready to eat Foods, Pickles, Jams / Jellies / Sauces, Sea foods, Sugar, Cocoa, Chocolates, Eggs & Egg Products, Soft drinks, Fruit Juices, Cereals & Cereal Products, Spices & Condiments. In short we aim to test what the world eats!
But we uphold confidentiality towards our customers and non-disclosure agreements.
What is the competition for TÜV Rheinland in India?
There are multiple able and successful food and water testing laboratories both government and privately based out of Bengaluru and pan India which are certified facilities that prove to be competitors for us. Though the overall principle of testing and certification remain the same, the approach on food safety and related areas and the dynamic nature of our team differentiates us from others. We believe that we take food safety personally!
What are the likely future efforts for the company to increase its presence in the Indian food industry?
The food market in India is promising yet fragmented. The established food processing units are aware of the requirements and are thus implementing the same. We will be looking to create solutions for Small Scale businesses in R&D in food processing and production. Small companies may not have the ability to do that, whereas laboratories such as ours would have the vast knowledge in putting that together and offering that as a valuable service.
We are looking to increase in the awareness of food safety with the common man and the working class. We have been organising talks and presentations at various company cafeterias and other groups to reach out to people and will continue to do the same at various levels.
India has already made a beginning with the Food Safety and Standards Act. Comment.
Undoubtedly the process has begun and looks promising to say the least. It would be very satisfying to ensure that the Food Safety Standards Association of India (FSSAI) is implanted completely as a standard and also reaches all nooks and corners. I respect the time this might require but with able management of resources and an aggressive drive to uphold the importance of food safety, FSSAI can be implemented faster. As mentioned by me earlier, support in any form feasible by us will be extended to the authorities by our group. With a young and dynamic team we fully appreciate the challenges ahead and willing to walk the extra mile for food safety.