Soon alcohol content in alcoholic beverages to be regulated

New Delhi: Alcohol content in your favourite bottle of beer, wine and spirit is all set to go under scrutiny in the country.

For the first time, India`s food regulator FSSAI has finalised draft standards for all categories of alcoholic beverages like wine, beer, whisky, rum, gin and vodka to set the maximum permissible limits of alcohol in these drinks and thus, mandate safety standards.

The draft standards will come up for final discussions at the forthcoming meeting of the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India, the apex food regulator, which plans to notify these by July 1.

So far, there was no benchmarking in place for prescribing safe and permissible limits of alcohol in drinks.

The new standards will apply to practically all branded alcoholic beverages that are permitted for sale in India as per the current licencing regulations.

Sources in the FSSAI said the new draft food standards finalised for alcoholic drinks would prescribe standards for the content of alcohol, grains and water in drinks.

"These standards have already been approved by the FSSAI scientific committee and are expected to be taken up at the Authority`s forthcoming meeting before their final approval. After approvals, these will be put in the public domain and objections will be invited," FSSAI officers said.

The move has a potential to impact sales of the alcohol industry, a major revenue earner for states, with the total annual sales pegged at over USD 10 billion in the country.

The industry is stiffly resisting any move from the food regulator to set standards on alcohol content in branded drinks.

The current levels in India allow a maximum of 45.5 per cent alcohol content in distilled spirits such as whisky, rum, gin or vodka, 12 per cent for wine and 8 per cent for beer.

While the FSSAI says setting of standards for food products is part of its mandate by law, alcoholic beverage manufacturers say the Authority has no such power and the state governments alone had the legislative competence to govern the manufacture and sale of these products.

Citing the existing state laws governing the manufacture and sale of liquor under the Excise Act, the manufacturers of alcoholic drinks under the banner of Confederation of Indian Alcoholic Beverage Companies have moved the Bombay High Court challenging FSSAI`s move to set alcohol content standards.

Liquor manufacturers have also moved the Jabalpur High Court challenging the inclusion of alcoholic drinks in the definition of food under the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, which was implemented last year in August.

The Act says anything consumed would be considered as food.

FSSAI officers maintain they have the requisite powers under the FSSAI Act to set standards for anything consumed by humans as food or drink items and ensure that whatever is
consumed is fit for human consumption.

"We are simply trying to tell consumers what is fit for their consumption. These standards are directed to safeguard public health," an FSSAI official said.

Developed countries have safety standards for all alcoholic drinks and these are enforced strictly in the interest of public health.

The FSSAI was established under the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 as a statutory body to lay down science- based food safety standards and regulating manufacturing, processing, distribution, sale and import of food so as to ensure safe and wholesome food for human consumption.