Delhi HC orders complete disclosure of all ingredients in food articles

New Delhi: Observing that many food articles which have ingredients sourced from animals are passed off as vegetarian by affixing the green dot, the Delhi High Court issued directions to concerned authorities to ensure “full and complete disclosure” of all the ingredients which go into the manufacture of any food article stating that it would otherwise “offend the religious and cultural sensibilities of vegetarians.”

The Delhi High Court ordered authorities to mandatorily disclose all the ingredients which go into the manufacture of any food article, not only by their code names but also by disclosing as to whether they originate from plant, or animal source, or whether they are manufactured in a laboratory, irrespective of their percentage in the food article.

A Division Bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Jasmeet Singh said: “We, therefore, direct the respondents to ensure that there should be full and complete disclosure of all the ingredients which go into the manufacture of any food article, not only by their code names but also by disclosing as to whether they originate from plant, or animal source, or whether they are manufactured in a laboratory, irrespective of their percentage in the food article.”

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The court clarified that 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 were directed by Delhi HC to ensure full and strict compliance of Regulation 2.2.2(4) on the basis that the use of any ingredient – in whatever measure or percentage, which is sourced from animals, would render the food article as non-vegetarian.

The court also observed the failure on the part of the Food Business Operators to comply with the above requirements would expose themselves to, inter alia, class action for violation of the fundamental rights of the consuming public and invite punitive damages, apart from prosecution.

Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) was also directed by the Delhi HC to verify all such claims made by the Food Business Operators. The High Court also warned that the connivance or failure on the part of the FSSAI or its officers to perform their duties shall expose all such officers to claims by the aggrieved parties, and prosecution under the law. “This order should be given adequate publicity to put everyone concerned to notice of their legal and constitutional obligations and rights,” the court ruled.

The court has asked FSSAI to file a compliance report in respect of its direction before the next date.

The court, which was hearing a petition filed by Ram Gau Raksha Dal, listed the matter for further hearing on January 31, 2022.

Advocate Rajat Aneja, appearing for the petitioner, pointed out that so far as animal fat is concerned, these Regulations specifically require the source of the animal fat/ oil, other than milk fat, to be disclosed. The Regulations specifically require the name of the source of the fat to be declared, namely, whether pork fat/ lard, beef fat or extracts thereof have been used.

He submitted that, however, when it comes to the obligation to make declarations with regard to other ingredients, such as cheese and gum base, there is no requirement for disclosing specifically the source from where such ingredients for the manufacture of the food article, such as, either cheese or gum base are sourced. He pointed out that both cheese and gum could be prepared with ingredients from vegetarian source, or non- vegetarian source.

The advocate further submitted that the lack of insistence under clause 2(d) on disclosure of compound ingredients which constitute less than 5 per cent of the food from disclosure (other than food additives) seriously infringes the rights of the consumers, as they are kept in the dark by the Food Business Operators about the fact whether such compound ingredients are from a vegetarian or a non-vegetarian source. He submitted that the said relaxation infringes the fundamental rights of the consumers under Articles

21, 19(1)(a) and 25 of the Constitution and impinges on their freedom of informed choice.

Additional Solicitor General Chetan Sharma along with Central Government Standing Counsel Ajay Digpaul, and Amit Gupta, Akshay Gadeock, Sahaj Garg, Vinay Yadav, Rishav Dubey and Kamal R. Digpaul, appeared for Centre. Advocate Rakesh Chaudhary was representing FSSAI.

Advocate Chaudhry, who appeared for FSSAI, submitted that Section 26 of the Food Safety & Standards Act, 2006 fixes the responsibilities on the Food Business Operators to ensure that the articles of food satisfy the requirements of the Act and the Rules & Regulations made thereunder at all stages of production, processing, import, distribution and sale within the businesses under the control of the Food Business Operator.

“Having perused the provisions of the Act, the Rules & Regulations and the affidavit filed on behalf of respondent No.2 (FSSAI), we find that the Act very clearly intends and expressly provides for declaration on all food items being made – as to whether they are vegetarian or non-vegetarian, as defined in the Act. This obligation cast on the Food Business Operators is independent of their obligation to make disclosure of ingredients in accordance with Regulation 2.2.2, regarding labelling,” the court said.

It noted that some Food Business Operators are taking advantage of – upon misreading of the Regulations, the fact that the Act does not specifically oblige the Food Business Operators to disclose the source from which the ingredients -which go into manufacture/ production of food articles, are sourced, except in respect of the specific express exceptions.

“In our view, the failure of the respondent authorities in checking such lapses is leading to not only non-compliance of the Act and the Regulations – taken note of hereinabove, but also leading to deceit by such Food Business Operators of the public at large, particularly those who wish to profess strict vegetarianism,” the court said.

“It matters not – as to what is the percentage of such like ingredients (which are sourced from animals), which are used in the manufacture of food article,” the court noted.

“Even though their usage may constitute a minuscule percentage, the use of non-vegetarian ingredients would render such food articles non-vegetarian, and would offend the religious and cultural sensibilities/ sentiments of strict vegetarians, and would interfere in their right to freely profess, practice and propagate their religion and belief. Every person has a right to know as to what he/ she is consuming, and nothing can be offered to the person on a platter by resort to deceit, or camouflage,” the court said.

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