Guwahati, March 16: The tea industry has agreed to have its produce tested by the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) as part of a strategy to prevent the export of tea that has not been manufactured in compliance with global norms.
The BIS has begun briefing tea gardens in Assam about its quality-control norms and the response, industry sources say, has been positive.
“We have agreed to the BIS specifications with the support of the tea companies. The Tea Board has got into the act, too. It has offered certain subsidies to encourage companies to adhere to the BIS specifications,” Dhiraj Kakoti, secretary of the Assam Branch of Indian Tea Association, said.
As a member of the World Trade Organisation, India has accepted the international Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) system, designed to identify and eliminate the presence of microbial and other hazardous substances in food.
The tea industry, however, evinced interest in the certification system — the Indian standard is IS 15000:1998 — only after several countries said they were not satisfied with the quality of tea manufactured in India. Germany, for instance, complained about the presence of pesticide residue in tea.
An awareness programme on BIS certification of tea was held recently in Jorhat. The deputy director-general of the Calcutta-based regional office of the BIS, V.K. Sehgal, and officials of the Tea Board, the Tea Research Association and the ABITA attended the workshop.
The BIS has listed as many as 15 tea-related hazards, including metallic contaminants, pesticide residue, iron filings, lead, copper, ash and alkalinity. The organisation has also prepared an evaluation card for teas, which will be tested on the basis of dry leaf appearance, dry leaf aroma, dry leaf colour, liquor taste, liquor colour, infused leaf appearance and infused leaf aroma.
The director of the Guwahati branch of the BIS, A.P. Chandra Rao, said the interaction between representatives of the organisation and industry in Jorhat was a fruitful exercise. “The response was good. Each of the 50-odd participants supported the initiative.”
BIS officials said it was imperative for the Indian food industry to adopt the HACCP system to reach global standards. A presentation on BIS standards for tea and another on certification of processing units was given at the Jorhat meeting.
Rao said a tea garden would have to pay Rs 40,000 annually to the BIS to get its produce tested. “The industry cannot supply whatever it likes. The views of consumers have to be taken into account. The primary aim is to meet the requirements of overseas markets and get preferred-supplier status.”
The Codex Alimentarius Commission, created in 1963 by the Food and Agricultural Organisation and the World Health Organisation to monitor global food standards, has advocated the adoption of the HACCP system by all countries.