India: FSSAI steps in to regulate advertising for food business operators
Ranjan Narula and Ajay Kumar of RNA Technology and IP Attorneys explore the key takeaways from guidelines introduced to establish fairness in claims and advertisements of food products
The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) set up under the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 was created for laying down science-based standards for articles of food and to regulate their manufacture, stockpiling, circulation, sale and import with an aim to ensure availability of safe and wholesome food for human consumption.
FSSAI has finalised guidelines to regulate claims and advertisements by food business operators in relation to consumable food items. These regulations are aimed at establishing fairness in claims and advertisements of food products and make food businesses accountable for such claims/advertisements to protect consumer interests.
With the COVID-19 pandemic and increased focus of consumers towards health and wellbeing, the attention of consumers has been towards food that provide health benefits. Therefore, during this phase many companies have launched products that claim to provide better nutrition and related health benefits. In this context, the guidelines are timely to balance the interest of consumers and food companies.
The regulations lay down general principles for claims and advertisements; criteria for nutrition claims (including nutrient content or nutrient comparative claims), non-addition claims (including non-addition of sugars and sodium salts), health claims (reduction of disease risk), claims related to dietary guidelines or healthy diets, and conditional claims; claims that are specifically prohibited; and procedures for approval of claims and redressal of non-compliances under these regulations. The post covers a few aspects of the guidelines.
The general principles to be followed by food business operators and marketers while advertising and publishing communication to promote any article of food including labelling claims are:
Claims must be truthful, unambiguous, meaningful, and not misleading. It should help consumers to understand the information provided.
Claims shall not encourage or condone excess consumption of a particular food.
Claims shall not state, suggest or imply that a balanced and varied diet cannot provide appropriate quantities of nutrients as required by the body;
Where the claim benefit is related to or dependent on the method of preparation of the food the same shall be provided on the label;
Claims shall specify the number of servings of the food per day for the claimed benefit;
The claim that a food has certain nutritional or health attributes shall be scientifically substantiated by validated methods of quantifying the ingredient or substance that is the basis for the claim;
No to use the words/phrases such as natural, fresh, original, traditional, authentic, genuine, real etc. on the food labels except under specific conditions where the meaning of a trademark, brand name or fancy name contains these adjectives. In such cases if the labelling, presentation, or advertising of a food is such that it is likely to mislead consumer as to the nature of the food, in such cases a disclaimer in not less than 3mm size shall be given at appropriate place on the label stating that; – “This is only a brand name or trademark and does not represent its true nature”
All disclaimers related to a claim shall be conspicuous and legible;
No claim or promotion of sale, supply, use and consumption of articles of foods shall be made using FSSAI logo and license number;
Advertisements shall also not undermine the importance of healthy lifestyles;
Advertisements for food or beverages shall not be promoted or portrayed as a meal replacement unless otherwise specifically permitted as a meal replacement under any other regulations made under Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 (the Act);
Claims in advertisements shall be consistent with information on the label of the food or beverage;
Every declaration which is required to be made on advertisements under these regulations shall be conspicuous and legible.
(1) No claims shall be made which refer to the suitability of the food for use in the prevention, alleviation, treatment or cure of a disease, disorder or particular physiological condition unless specifically permitted under any other regulations made under the Act;
(2) The label of any package, containing food for sale the words “recommended by the medical or nutrition or health professionals” or any words which imply or suggest that the food is recommended, prescribed, or approved by medical practitioners or approved for medical purpose shall not be used;
(3) No product shall claim the term “added nutrients”, if such nutrients have been added merely to compensate the nutrients lost or removed during processing of the food;
(4) Foods for special dietary uses or foods for special medical purposes shall not carry a claim unless specifically permitted under any other regulations made under the Act;
(5) Claims which do give rise to doubt or suspicion about the safety of similar food or which may arouse fear shall not be made;
(6) No health claims shall be made for foods that contain nutrients or constituents in quantity that increase the risk of disease or an adverse health-related condition; and
(7) No advertisements or claims for articles of foods shall be made by any food business operator that undermines the products of any other manufacturer for the purpose of promoting their products or influencing consumer behaviour.
Penal provisions for using misleading words
Any person, including a third party, who advertises or is a party to the publication of any misleading advertisement not complying with the regulations laid down by FSSAI would be penalised with a fine which may extend up to Rs 10 lakh (approximately US $13,450).
Approval of claims
The food business operator or marketer shall seek prior approval from the Food Authority for reduction of disease risk claims other than those that are defined and for which criteria are laid out under these regulations or any other regulations made under the Act.
The regulation defines ‘reduction of disease risk claims’ to imply claims that state or suggest that consumption of such food, in the context of total diet, reduce the risk of developing a disease or health related condition.
Overall, the guidelines are a good way to keep food companies in check and not indiscriminately use the words ‘natural’, ‘fresh’, ‘original’, ‘traditional’, ‘authentic’, ‘genuine’ on the packaging, and only if it is tangibly justified.
Managing partner, RNA, Technology and IP Attorneys
Managing associate, RNA, Technology and IP Attorneys