Veg or non-veg. HC wants stricter marking on food
The Delhi High Court has ruled that there should be complete disclosure of all ingredients used to manufacture any food article so that people can determine if they are truly “vegetarian” or “non-vegetarian”, adding that “every person has a right to know what they are consuming and nothing can be offered to the person on a platter by resort to deceit, or camouflage:.
A bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Jasmeet Singh added that the ingredients used in the manufacturing process should not only be written in code, but also by source of origin-plant or animal, made naturally or manufactured in a laboratory.
It should also be fairly disclosed as to what is the plant source, or animal source- as the case may be, in respect of all the ingredients in whatever measure they are used. The Food Business Operators are directed to ensure full and strict compliance of Regulation 2.2.2.(4) on the basis that the use of any ingredients- in whatever measure or percentage, which is sourced from animals, would render the food article as non-vegetarian, the Court said in a December 9, 2021 Order.
The bench noted that it has found that several food articles which have ingredients sourced from animals are shown as “vegetarian” by affixing a green dot on the packaging.
While hearing a plea by a trust, Ram Gau Raksha Dal, for labelling of all products-including etables and cosmetics- as “vegetarian” or “non-vegetarian” not only on the basis of its ingredients but also on the substances used in the manufacturing process, the bench threatened action against food business operators if they did not comply.
It said that the failure of the authorities to list “non-vegetarian” products used in the manufacturing of food articles was tantamount to deceit of the public at large, and particularly those who wished to profess strict vegetarianism, thus leading to a violation of the fundamental rights.
It matters not- as to what is the percentage of such ingredients (which are sourced from animals), which are used in the manufacture of food articles. Even though their usage may constitute a minuscule percentage, the use of non-vegetarian ingredients would render such food article non-vegetarian, and would offend the religious and cultural sensibilities/sentiments of strict vegetarian, and would interfere in their right to freely profess, practice and propagate their religion and belief, the court said in an order of December 9, 2021.
The petition contended that it is the fundamental right of any citizen to know whether or not the food they consume, cosmetics and perfumes they use, clothes/garments they wear, contain, or are manufactured by using, components or parts derived from the body of an animal.
On December 9, high court was told by the petitioners that one ingredient coded on packaging as E631denotes Disodium Inosinate- the disodium salt of inosinic acid. The bench was told that this is used as a food additive, and often found in instant noodles, potato chips, and a variety of other snacks and is commercially prepared from meat or fish.
Taking note of this, the high court bench said, “A little search on Google shows that it is often sourced from pig fat. Even though it is a food additive, yet, the Food Business Operators often do not disclose in their packaging- in terms of the Regulations…, that the food article wherein the said ingredient is used, is a non-vegetarian product”.
Though several such ingredients are used, merely the codes of the ingredients are disclosed, without actually disclosing on the packaging as to what it is plant based, or animal based, or it is a chemically manufactured in a laboratory, it added.
The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) told the Delhi High Court that all food business operators are already mandatorily required to mention the list of ingredients used in manufacturing or processing of food products.
To be sure, packaged food items are tagged with red (non-vegetarian) and green (vegetarian) tags based on ingredients, as per the Legal Metrology (Packaged Commodity) Rules, 2011.
The matter will next be heard on January 31, 2022, when the court is also expected to adjudicate on the aspect of cosmetic items as well.
FSSAI officials did not respond to requests seeking a comment.