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FSSAI to serve notices to food companies for ads 'violating norms'

Food standards regulator proposed action follows controversy about influencer withdrawing video about Bournvita

Food and groceries and quick service restaurant sectors have surpassed 2019 levels.

Pratigya YadavSanjeeb Mukhejee New Delhi

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India’s food standards regulator plans serving notices over “misleading” health claims made by food business operators (FBO), responding after an influencer withdrew his video about chocolate drink Bournvita.

Sources said that the advertisement monitoring committee of the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) in the past six months has got 138 cases, including those involving prominent brands, of promotions that were allegedly misleading and violated the regulatory provisions of FSS Act, 2006.

“For further enforcement actions, the same have been referred to the concerned licensing authorities for issuance of notices to all such FBOs for withdrawing of misleading claims or scientifically substantiating the same,” said sources without naming any brand.

The committee periodically scrutinises advertisements and claims being made by FBOs on social media, e-commerce platforms and elsewhere.

Sources said that according to a law called the Food Safety and Standards (advertisements & claims) Regulations, 2018 deceptive claims or advertisements are prohibited and are punishable offences.

According to those regulations, a FBO is required to withdraw deceptive claims or amend them. Failure can lead to a FBO being penalised with a fine extending up to Rs 10 lakh, apart from other action like suspension/cancellation of licence in case of repeated offences.

“Where a claimed health benefit is attributed directly to the product, it shall be based on statistically significant results from well-designed human intervention studies, conducted by or under guidance of established research institutions, in line with the principles of GCP (Good Clinical Practices) and peer reviewed or published in a peer reviewed reputed scientific journal,” sources said.

Health experts said that despite well-intended regulations, misleading advertisements of packaged food products continue. The food industry is able to exploit the lack of specificity in regulations, which define 'misleading advertisements' subjectively.

“Objectivity in the definition of misleading advertisement may also be helpful. If the definition of misleading or deceptive is objective, actions against FBOs could be taken in a quick manner,” said Arun Gupta, paediatrician and convener of NAPi, an independent think tank on nutrition.

A research paper Gupta co-authored with others said there is need for vigilant monitoring of advertisements about ultra-processed foods or high-fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) pre-packaged food products that are blamed for obesity and non-communicable diseases.

“We recommend more formal studies on the influence and prevalence of misleading advertisements,” said Gupta.

Three weeks ago health and nutrition influencer Revant Himatsingka, in a viral video, claimed that advertisements about Bournvita, the Mondelez International-owned brand, misrepresented the product's nutritional value. He deleted the video after getting a legal notice from the company.

Mondelez, at that time, dismissed Himatsingka’s claims and issued a statement saying that its product is scientifically crafted by a team of nutritionists and food scientists

"All our claims are verified and transparent and all ingredients have regulatory approvals. All the necessary nutritional information is mentioned on the pack for consumers to make informed choices," it said.

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First Published: Apr 21 2023 | 8:35 PM IST

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