The Centre is going to set up a committee to scrutinise and regulate product-feature claims made in advertisements, seeking to fix accountability on manufacturers and help consumers choose food items objectively.
Pawan Agarwal, CEO, FSSAI said, “The committee will examine advertising claims, examine complaints, and then take appropriate action.”
FSSAI is not only concerned about large corporates and MNCs with a national sales footprint, but equally concerned with small and medium businesses that make misguided advertising claims.
This is the first time the Centre has planned to directly involve itself with advertising scrutiny, through the Food Safety & Standards Authority of India. While FSSAI guidelines for advertising regulations are in place, implementation by advertisers hasn’t been followed closely.
So far, advertising regulations have been overseen through an independent entity, the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI).
According to regulations, misleading ads not complying with the guidelines are to be penalised with fines up to `10 lakh. Regulations disallow food businesses to use words and phrases such as natural, fresh, original, traditional, authentic, genuine or real on food labels, except under specific conditions.
Regulations also call for a disclaimer when a brand name contains adjectives such as natural, fresh, pure, or original in the labelling. As the presentation could mislead consumers, prominent disclaimers are needed on labels stating “it is only a brand name or trade mark and does not represent its true nature.”
Last week, the FSSAI had issued show-cause notices to quick service restaurant chain McDonald’s for its ads. It said that government regulations do not allow companies to promote food choices that are against national initiatives encouraging healthier diets.
In the US or Europe, they invest billions of dollars on food safety. In the US, for example, they spend $2.2 billion every year on food safety issues.
India’s complexity is much larger in terms of the fragmented nature of our food ecosystem,” Agarwal said. The upcoming committee could be a third-party agency, which will scrutinise advertising claims across the country.