FSSAI brings out new regulations on food advertisement

According to the new FSSAI regulations, the labels on food items will not have words implying the food is recommended, prescribed, or approved by medical practitioners or approved for medical purpose.

Shifting from its past position, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India has allowed food and beverage companies to use words like “natural”, “fresh”, “pure” and “real” in their brand names, but with a disclaimer.

Notified last week, the FSSAI's new rules on food advertisement not only prepare the ground for food inspectors to act, but also bear testimony to the subtle shift in the food regulator's initial position on the use of such deceptive words in order to avoid conflict with another government agency.

In the draft released last year, the FSSAI stated food business operators could not use words or phrases such as “natural”, “fresh”, “original”, “traditional”, “premium”, “finest”, “best”, “authentic”, “genuine” and “real” on the food labels except under specific conditions.

For instance, foods can be called “fresh” only if they are not processed in any manner except washed, peeled chilled, trimmed or cut or have undergone other processing necessary for making the product safe without altering its basic characteristic in any manner.

Similarly, the word "natural" is to be permitted only for food derived from a plant, animal, micro-organism or mineral and to which nothing has been added.

However, in the final notification published on November 19, such strict conditions have been done away with. The companies are free to use those terms with a disclaimer stating it is only a brand name or trade mark and does not represent its true nature.

“The FSSAI couldn't take much action because the companies have legally valid trade marks from the Office of the Registrar of the Trade Marks. That's why they have been asked to use the disclaimer to caution the consumers,” Bejon Misra, one of the members of the FSSAI central advisory committee told DH.

The Food Safety and Standards (Advertising and Claims) Regulations, 2018 provides details of how the food firms should advertise their products avoiding misleading claims, without undermining the importance of healthy lifestyle and balanced diet. The rules will be effective from July 1, 2019.

Last year, two researchers from the Armed Forces Medical College, Pune scrutinised 1,200 Indian food advertisements and found that nearly 60% of such advertisements are misleading in nature. They neither follow FSSAI rules nor the Advertising Standards Council of India codes.

According to the new regulations, claims made in the advertisements will be consistent with information on the label. The labels will not have words implying the food is recommended, prescribed, or approved by medical practitioners or approved for medical purpose.

When a nutrient comparative claim is made, the food should be having at least 25% higher energy value or nutrient content as against the same food without the nutrient. For claims on micro-nutrients, the food should be having at least 10% of the recommended dietary allowances for such micro-nutrients.

“The new regulations are a step forward in the right direction as they empower state government officials to take action against guilty food companies,” Misra said.

The FSSAI is in the process of further amending some of its existing regulations to regulate high-salt and high-sugar containing food and alert the consumers about the dangers of having such food.

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FSSAI brings out new regulations on food advertisement

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