Regulations to curtail misleading food ads

Regulations to curtail misleading food ads


  • Recently, the Advertisement Monitoring Committee at the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) flagged 32 fresh cases of food business operators (FBOs) making misleading claims and advertisements.

  • As per the regulator, the count of such offences has shot up to 170 in the last six months.
  • According to Manisha Kapoor, Chief Executive Officer and Secretary General at the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), most complaints of misleading ads were related to the nutrition of a product, its benefits and the ingredient mix not being based on adequate evidence.

What are the regulations?

  • There are varied regulations to combat misleading advertisements and claims, some are broad, while others are product specific.
  • For example, FSSAI uses the Food Safety and Standards (Advertising & Claims) Regulations, 2018 which specifically deals with food (and related products) while the Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA)’s regulations cover goods, products and services.
  • Further, the Programme and Advertising Codes prescribed under the Cable Television Network Rules, 1994 stipulate that advertisements must not imply that the products have “some special or miraculous or supernatural property or quality, which is difficult of being proved.”
  • The FSSAI seeks that the advertisements and claims be “truthful, unambiguous, meaningful, not misleading and help consumers to comprehend the information provided”.
  • The claims must be scientifically substantiated by validated methods of characterising or quantifying the ingredient or substance that is the basis for the claim.
  • Product claims suggesting a prevention, alleviation, treatment or cure of a disease, disorder or particular psychological condition is prohibited unless specifically permitted under the regulations of the FSS Act, 2006.

When can a product be referred to as ‘natural’ and ‘fresh’?

  • A food product can be referred to as ‘natural’ if it is a single food derived from a recognised natural source and has nothing added to it.
  • It should only have been processed to render it suitable for human consumption.
  • The packaging too must be done sans chemicals and preservatives.
  • Composite foods, which are essentially a mixture of plant and processed constituents, cannot call themselves ‘natural’, instead, they can say ‘made from natural ingredients’.
  • ‘Fresh’ can be used for products which are not processed in any manner other than washing, peeling, chilling, trimming, cutting or irradiation by ionising radiation not exceeding 1 kGy or any other processing such that it remains safe for consumption with the basic characteristics unaltered.
  • Those with additives (to increase shelf life) may instead use ‘freshly frozen’, ‘fresh frozen’, or ‘frozen from fresh’ to contextualise that it was quickly frozen while fresh.

What about ‘pure’ and ‘original’?

  • ‘Pure’ is to be used for single­ingredient foods to which nothing has been added and which are devoid of all avoidable contamination, while unavoidable contaminants are within prescribed controls.
  • ‘Original’ is used to describe food products made to a formulation, with a traceable origin that has remained unchanged over time.
  • They do not contain replacements for any major ingredients.
  • It may similarly be used to describe a unique process which has remained unchanged over time, although the product may be mass­produced.

What about ‘nutritional claims’?

  • Nutritional claims may either be about the specific contents of a product or comparisons with some other foodstuff.
  • Claims of equivalence such as “contains the same of (nutrient) as a (food)” or “as much (nutrient) as a (food)” may be used in the labelling provided that it gives the equivalent nutritional value as the reference food.

Way forward:

  • The State/UT Governments are primarily responsible for the enforcement of the FSS Act, 2006 in their respective jurisdictions through the institution of the Commissioner of Food Safety.
  • To increase public awareness and educate the public on proper agricultural and workplace hygiene as well as the appropriate use of pesticides, the FSSAI should collaborate with other ministries.
  • Collaboration with the other ministries can be taken up FSSAI.

Syllabus: Mains; GS III – Health