Globalization brought with it the culture of fast food, which has impact on the health of our generations considering its consumption by all age groups. The food laws in India includes the following:
(i) Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954
(ii) Fruit Products Order,1955
(iii) Meat Food Products Order, 1973
(iv) Vegetable Oil Products (Control) Order, 1947
(v) Edible Oils Packaging (Regulation) Order 1988
(vi) Milk and Milk Products Order, 1992 etc are repealed after commencement of FSS Act, 2006.
(vii) Food Safety and Standards (“FSS”) Act, 2006
Recent Maggie dispute caused lot of attention to the food laws prevailing in our country safeguarding the health of our country. The article is an overview of various laws in our country regarding the laws relating to junk food.
A. Laws and Guidelines relating to the Junk Food
The most prevalent food form across length and breadth of country is Junk Food. However, Junk food being so dominant in Indian plate has not been defined anywhere under the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954. At present, there is no proposal under consideration of the Ministry of Health to define junk food under the FSS Act. The junk food is generally understood as food rich in sodium/glucose/sugar and is responsible for causing dental cavities/obesity/heart diseases. Food items such as Samosa, jalebi, pizza, burgers and pakodas come under the definition of Proprietary Food. Further, FSS Act does not give any authority to ban any kind of food.
Guidelines for making available wholesome, nutritious, safe and hygienic food to schoolchildren in the country have been framed by the Central Advisory Committee formed under the FSS Act.
In a major development, the Delhi High Court has ruled in Udai Foundation for Congenital Defect and rare Blood Groups vs. Union of India this year that junk food – high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) – must be restricted in schools and a 50 meter radius. The court constituted an expert group in September 2013 to recommend guidelines on the availability of junk food to children in schools. The expert group comprised of nutritionists and pediatricians, and also included well-known environmentalist Sunita Narain of the Centre for Science and Environment. CBSE has been given appropriate directions for ensuring implementation under the aforesaid judgment for outside Delhi schools. The Maggie dispute is just a symbol of awakening about the health hazard and safety in consuming these fast foods. The way the fast food is taking over our normal routine food, it has become necessary to be alarmed about revisiting the laws related to them now.
B. Recent Maggie Dispute
Food safety inspectors in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh have filed a criminal complaint against Nestle’s Indian arm, after spot checks earlier this year found excess lead in some packets of Maggi instant noodles. The Uttar Pradesh FDA had ordered a recall of a 200,000-pack batch of noodles at the end of April, after a spot check which said showed elevated levels of monosodium glutamate (MSG), a flavour enhancer, and lead 17 times above the permissible limit. The FDA official confirmed that the complaint included Nestle India, as well as the manufacturing unit, the retailer selling the tainted packs, two Nestle managers and even Bollywood stars who promoted the 2-minute snack. The consumer affairs department has filed a complaint against food major Nestle India with the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) seeking damages of Rs 640 crore alleging that the company sold unsafe and hazardous products – Maggi noodles – to millions of consumers endangering their health. It has also alleged the company indulged in misleading and deceptive advertisements and also resorted to unfair trade practices to earn “unjust profits”.
C. Understanding the FSS Act in context of Junk Food
The FSS Act which is applicable to whole of India. It is an Act to consolidate the laws relating to food and to establish the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India for laying down science based standards for articles of food and to regulate their manufacture, storage, distribution, sale and import, to ensure availability of safe and wholesome food for human consumption and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.
Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has been established under Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 that consolidates various Acts & orders that have hitherto handled food related issues in various Ministries and Departments. FSSAI has been created for laying down science-based standards for articles of food and to regulate their manufacture, storage, distribution, sale and import to ensure availability of safe and wholesome food for human consumption.
D. Food Labeling
Food Labeling serves as a primary link of communication between the manufacturer and packer of food on the one hand and distributor, seller, and user or consumer on the other hand. By way of labeling the manufacturer introduces his product to his distributor or seller and to the target consumer or user of his product by providing all the information regarding his product on the label.
As per Food Laws, every packaged food article has to be labeled and it has to be labeled in accordance to the law applicable in the country of the user. Every packaged food article for the domestic use has to be labeled in accordance to the related Indian Food Law i.e. Food Safety and Standards (Packaging and Labelling) Regulations, 2011, notified by Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI). The packaged food for export has to be labeled in accordance to the food laws and regulations applicable to the importing country.
In order to safe guard the interest of the consumer, The Food Safety and Standards (Packaging and Labelling) Regulations, 2011, provides that every packaged food article has to be labeled and it shall provide the following information –
- The name of Food
- List of Ingredients,
- Nutritional Information,
- Declaration regarding Veg or non-veg,
- Declaration regarding Food Additives,
- Name and complete address of the manufacturer or packer
- Net Quantity,
- Code No,/Lot No./Batch No.,
- Date of manufacture or packing,
- Best Before and Use By Date,
- Country of Origin for imported food and
- Instructions for use
In addition to the above information the manufacturer or the packer has to also ensure that the label complies with the general requirements of labeling prescribed under the regulations I.e. the label should not become separated from the container, contents on the label shall be correct, clear and readily legible and shall be in English or Hindi language, etc.
The offences & penalties under the Act is for:
- Misbranded Food Up to 3lakh rupee
- Misleading advertisement Up to 10lakh rupees
The consumer can notice the labeling defect easily through visual inspection and that may create suspicion about the quality of the product also in the mind of the consumer. If on analysis the sample is found non-complying to the standards then the food product is declared as substandard besides misbranding and prosecution is launched for substandard and also for misbranding i.e. labeling defect. Even if the sample is found confirming to standards, the prosecution is launched for misbranding. On the other hand incorrect and incomplete labelling makes the food product misbranded, suspicious of its quality and attracts the attention of the regulators for its quality check and further leads to prosecution.
This Packaging and Labeling Regulations are summarized in the following modules:
- General Requirements and Manner of Labelling
- The name of Food and List of Ingredients,
- Nutritional Information,
- Declaration regarding Veg or Non-veg,
- Declaration regarding Food Additives,
- Name of Manufacturer or packer and Country of Origin
- Net Quantity
- Lot No. /Batch No./Code No.
- Date of manufacture or packing and Best Before or Use By Date,
- Instructions for Use
- Specific Requirements and Manner of Labelling for Infant Milk Substitute and Infant Foods
- Specific Labelling Requirements of edible oils and fats, permitted food colors and irradiated foods
- Specific Requirements and Manner of Labelling of Other Food Products
- Specific Restrictions on product labels and advertisement
- Exemptions from labeling requirements
Labeling means to introduce a product for sale by providing comprehensive information about the product to the target consumer market besides ensuring safety standards of the regulatory body. A useful elaborated information about the label leaves good impression on the consumers seeking required details about the product”
Junk food is not alone present in Indian market but also in Indian kitchen. For India it’s a matter of grave concern as India is diabetic capital of the world and Indian traditional food is free from all health hazard but has failed to catch up in terms of presence in Indian mindset. In present scenario, how do we look at laws relating to the junk food is important not only from perspective of health hazard and recent Maggie dispute but also for understanding properly what is the standard of food being served to us, to make an informed choice for our health.