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Does Your Food Claim Too Much?

Consumers are often misled by the claims on food packs and in commercials. They end up purchasing a product that may not be apt for them. Not necessarily does a product have the quality that it claims to have. To protect the interests of consumers, Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has come up with the Food Safety and Standards (Advertising and Claims) Regulations, 2018. The regulations specify which claims can or cannot be put on food packs or in their advertisements.
 
When we see words such as ‘organic’, ‘natural’ or ‘fresh’ on a food packet, we tend to believe that this particular food is better than the other products in the same category. Inscriptions such as ‘no trans-fats’ on a cooking-oil pack/bottle is meaningless because technically trans-fats cannot be present in cooking oils. When a chocolate-spread commercial says that it is rich in calcium and the amount is equivalent to a glass of milk, a mother of a picky eater is inclined to think that she should buy this for her kid. The mother doesn’t know that for that calcium from the spread, the kid will have to eat 100 gm of it. Not only is this impractical, the sugar in the spread makes it unhealthy for the child even if the spread has
calcium.

The new law contains a set of criteria and specifications for food-business operators. It also specifies which claims can be placed without the permission of the food authority; other claims will need approval from the food authority before they are out on the food packs or in commercials. This means if there are no specifications for a claim that a food-business operator wishes to place on a food pack, then the approval needs to be taken separately from the food authority. This claim must have strong scientific backing.
 

What They Claim

Basically, there are health and nutrition claims and other claims. Claims related to health and nutrition lead the consumer into believing that consuming the said food product is healthier when compared to others in the category, or that it is beneficial for health in some way. The new regulations lay down the general principles and criteria for claims such as the following:

  1. Nutrition claims (including nutrient content or nutrient-comparative claims)
  2. Non-addition claims (including non-addition of sugars and sodium salts)
  3. Health claims (reduction of disease risk)
  4. Claims related to dietary guidelines or healthy diets, and conditional claims

The other type of claims seek to lure the consumer by highlighting price benefits. This can be a small gift or toy with the food pack, or a ‘buy 2, get 1 free’ offer. The regulations do not specify anything about these claims. It is important for consumers to not be lured by such claims. It is not a good idea to consume a food item only because one wants the free gift with it.

What else Do the Regulations Say?

  • They spell out the procedures for approval of claims as also for redressal of non-compliances.  

If the brand name of a food product has words (or words that also mean) such as ‘natural’, ‘fresh’, ‘pure’, ‘original’, ‘traditional’, ‘authentic’, ‘genuine’, or ‘real’, a disclaimer in not less than 3 mm size shall be given at an appropriate place on the label stating –

‘This is only a brand name or trade mark and does not represent its true nature.’

  • Food-business operators cannot use words such as natural, fresh, original, traditional, premium, finest, best, authentic, genuine, and real on food labels except under specific conditions explained in the regulations. The food products that do not comply with the specifications cannot have them on the food label anymore.
  • Food-business operators cannot put out advertisements that –
  1. undermine the importance of healthy lifestyle habits, or
  2. promote or portray the product as a meal replacement.
  • No advertisements or claims for articles of foods shall be made by any food-business operator that undermine the products of any other manufacturer for the purpose of promoting their own products or influencing consumer behaviour.
  • Non- adherence to the regulations will be penalized with a fine extending up to Rs 10 lakh, as per Section 53 of the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006.

Food-business operators will have to comply with all the provisions of the regulations by 1 July 2019.

Compiled by Richa Pande

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