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French food fuss gets govt growling

New Delhi, May 20: The French are very fussy when it comes to their food. And Indian seafood exporters are finding themselves at the receiving end as the French health authorities have started destroying seafood consignments that do not meet their stringent standards.

Sources disclose that the Indian government has taken up the issue with the French authorities and asked them to return the rejected consignments for “inspection testing” instead of destroying them.

However, the French have refused to budge on the issue. India is also reported to have pursued the matter at the India-EU joint commission meeting but the impasse continues.

According to Indian officials, the WTO rules clearly state that any consignment that is rejected has to be returned to the exporting country. The Indian case is that the consignments can be tested again so that the exact cause for rejection can be ascertained and precautions taken in the future.

The consignment can also be reprocessed to remove the defects. For instance, reprocessing can get rid of a micro-organism called salmonella that the French authorities claim to have found in some consignments.

Indian officials point out that the WTO rules also allow for diverting the consignment to some other country after it has been informed about the grounds for rejection.

Since the EU standards are far more stringent than the international Codex standards recognised in other countries, these rejected consignments could be found acceptable there.

However, the French authorities feel that any food that is not fit for them to eat is not fit for anyone else to eat either.

The Indian government, on the other hand, views some of these rejections as part of the non-tariff barrier to discourage imports. For instance, consignments of seafood rejected by Spain in the past have found to be clean after being tested in several Indian labs. Incidentally, there has been no case of Indian seafood being rejected by Spain recently.

Various chemical preservatives are used for exporting marine products some of which are banned in one country and not in the other.

Chlorine is a typical example. Or it may turn out that the quantity of preservatives used could be beyond the acceptable limit. So if the details of the analysis are clearly known, steps can be taken to prevent rejection at the export destination.

Senior commerce ministry officials say that while taking up the issue with France and the European Union, the government has also told the Indian exporters to meet the highest standards.

The Export Inspection Council is keeping a close watch on the standards maintained by the exporting units.

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