Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority’s (BAFRA) director general, Namgay Wangchuk, said that implementation of the food labelling requirements has been a success.
Implementing requirement for homemade and one ingredient products, though, are still in the process.
According to a notification BAFRA issued in June last year, all prepackaged food requires name of the food, ingredient declaration, net content, name and address, country of origin, lot identification and date marking.
Namgay Wangchuk said that before implementation of the requirement, pamphlets and posters were distributed for public awareness; stakeholders’ meetings and mock checking at the entry gates were also held.
He added that because Bhutan imports most of the products in small quantities, implementing the requirement was not easy. “Labelling needs to be either in Dzongkha or English. Dzongkha can be done for those manufactured in our country in future. But imported products need to have food labels in English.”
Starting January this year, BAFRA officials have been inspecting the import of manufactured goods in the country.
Namgay Wangchuk said that today all prepackaged food are checked for food labels. “There are certain cases of food products without labels. Because the implementation process has just begun, we are not seizing any product. We are denying entry and sending them back.”
Most of third country imports take place through Phuentsholing entry gate. Products from India are imported from Gelephu, Phuentsholing and Samdrupjongkhar.
Manager of 8Eleven, Sagar Bhattarai, said that BAFRA has allowed the sale of products with food labels other than English and Dzongkha, which were imported in the country before the notification. “If this products were denied sale, shopkeepers would have run into huge loss. By allowing this, BAFRA has made it more convenient for us.”
He added that concerns regarding lack of food labels for one ingredient products were raised. “Labels for prepackaged food such as rice, which contain one type of ingredient isn’t necessary. Officials said that BAFRA would identify food groups with one ingredient, which wouldn’t require labelling.”
One of the shopkeepers raised concern regarding the effect of certain foods not coming to Bhutan.
He said that although a few manufacturers have agreed on putting food labels with the increase in the price of the product, many has denied the request.
He added that with many products not being imported in the country, food quality in the tourism sector would be affected. “Soda drink is highly demanded by tourist. Our chefs who are used to cooking with imported ingredients would be affected. Bread flour should be used for brown bread and the manufacturer of bread flour has denied our request. This product will not be available in our shop.”
On the implementation of the rule for homemade products, Namgay Wangchuk said that implementing the requirement would be difficult, especially for unlicensed producers. “People involved in this business come from poor backgrounds and some stakeholders have said that we should encourage such practice.”
He added that although the requirement cannot be implemented immediately, BAFRA is conducting trainings for small manufacturers for a clean hygienic production. “We would encourage people to at least take the food handlers training, which is held monthly.”
BAFRA plans to implement food label requirement for small producers in the future. This process would begin with licensing and conducting trainings.
All products manufactured in the country will require food labels according to the national standards.
Namgay Wangchuk said that food labelling requirement has been in place in the past according to the Food Act of Bhutan 2005.
However, he added that because of various issues raised by stakeholders and importers, implementation was difficult. “This is an important requirement and the public has the right to know about the product they eat. Damaged food can affect public’s health largely. If the food needs to be recalled, then with food labels we can easily do that.”
BAFRA also monitors export and certification of manufactured goods in the country.