The use of non-vegetarian ingredients, even in a miniscule amount, in food articles would render them non-vegetarian, which would offend the religious and cultural sentiments of strict vegetarians, the Delhi High Court observed while ordering manufacturers to disclose the full and complete list all ingredients that goes into the making of any food article.
A Bench of Justice Vipin Sanghi and Justice Jasmeet Singh ordered that food business operators, which manufacture food items, to disclose on the packaging all the ingredients 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.
“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 Bench added.
The High Court said that some food business operators are taking advantage of a clause in the Food Safety and Standards Regulations which exempts manufacturers from making a declaration about the compound ingredients in any food article, if it constitute less than 5% of the food.
It drew attention to an ingredient coded in the trade as E631 which denotes disodium inosinate. This is used as a food additive and often found in instant noodles, potato chips, and a variety of other snacks.
“It is commercially prepared from meat or fish. A little search on Google search engine 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... that the food article wherein the said ingredient is used, is a non-vegetarian product,” the Bench said.
Warns food authority
The court ordered the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) to verify all such claims made by the food business operators. Any 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, the court warned.
It said the failure of the authorities, including the FSSAI in checking such lapses is leading to not only non-compliance of the laws and regulations but also leading to “deceit” by such the food business operators of the public at large, particularly those who wish to profess strict vegetarianism.
“Even though their usage may constitute a miniscule 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,” the court said.
The High Court further warned the food manufacturers that failure on their part to comply with the regulations would expose themselves to, “class action for violation of the fundamental rights of the consuming public and invite punitive damages, apart from prosecution”.