NEW DELHI: The new year heralds good news for food lovers. For faster clearance of imported food products, including supplements and nutraceuticals, the government has decided to waive off sampling from consignments of general food products at ports, airports and other points of entry. Instead, only risk-based sampling will be done to ascertain compliance.

The move is in line with international standards aimed at easing trade between countries by awarding speedier clearances to products that do not involve serious health concerns, while focusing on specific items which are identified on the basis of “pre-defined risk parameters”, as specified by food and drug regulatory agencies. The customs department could then introduce these parameters into its own system to draw random samples at ports, while immediately clearing those that do not raise an alarm.

“…after detailed consultations, it has been decided that amongst others, it is possible to reduce the time taken for clearance of imported consignments by adopting a risk-based criteria for clearance of such consignments in place of samples being drawn from each consignment,” said a recent order of the health ministry.

However, the order will come into effect from March 1 as the customs department will put in place a specific software to identify products with potential risk.

According to a senior official in the ministry, products which are imported regularly by importers of established reputation with a credible record are likely to get faster clearances under the new system.

The move is in line with the government’s resolve to launch single-window clearance for all imports by March. The customs department has already started clearing textiles from countries like the US and EU, with prohibited use of harmful azo dyes, without testing at ports. It is┬áplanning risk based testing for imports from nations that are known to use azo dyes.

The health ministry’s rule will be applicable for both export and import of food products and drugs that require clearance from Food Safety and Standards Authority of India and Drugs Controller General of India.

Food importers and pharmaceutical companies, particularly those selling supplements and nutraceuticals, have been pushing for faster clearances for a long time. Premium chocolates, dairy products such as cheese and various fruits and dry fruits were often held back at ports by customs for days for sampling and checking. Companies allege that such delays in clearances lead to huge loses as shelf life of the products get exhausted and sometimes they are even spoiled.

The latest move also assumes significance because consumption of imported premium products including chocolates and gourmet based products is increasing tremendously.