Everyone has a right to know what they are consuming: Delhi High Court calls for full disclosure of items used in food products

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The Delhi High Court on Thursday called for the complete disclosure of items used in the manufacturing of food products, specifically whether they are plant-based, animal-based or chemical-based (Ram Gaua Raksha Dal v UOI and Ors).

A Division Bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Jasmeet Singh observed,

“We are directing you to disclose the source of all the ingredients. Everyone has a right to know what he or she is consuming. One should not resort to deceit or camouflage of the ingredients or the source. Please ensure that there should be a full and complete disclosure of any article; not just by its codename or food name but also in normal terms.”

The Court was hearing a petition filed by a trust called Ram Gaua Rakhsha Dal seeking the formulation of guidelines to make it mandatory for food manufacturers to label all consumable items according to the ingredients used in them.

When the matter was heard on Thursday, the Court mentioned that its attention had been drawn to an ingredient prepared commercially from meat or fish called Disodium Inosinate (E361), which is a food additive used primarily in potato chips and noodles. The Court said,

“A simple Google search would should how the ingredient is also sometimes sourced from pig fat. Yet, the food business operators are not disclosing the source. News of non-vegetarian ingredients could offend the sensibilities of strict vegetarians.”

The Court directed that the disclosure should entail the exact specifications of the source and ingredients in simple, layman’s terms. It pointed out that the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, did not account for this aspect.

“The Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 does not specifically encourage the food business operators to disclose the source of their ingredients. It should be clearly stated whether it is plant-based, animal-based or chemical-based. Everything has to be mentioned,” the Court added.

Additional Solicitor General Chetan Sharma, appearing for the Centre, told the Court,

“We are seeking some time as inter-ministerial coordination need to be done.”

Meanwhile, Advocate Rakesh Chaudhary, on behalf of the petitioner, urged the Court to issue a direction that the disclosure of the ingredient source must be made in layman terms. The Court agreed to direct the authorities to disclose the source of all ingredients in consumable products, in simple terms.

The matter will be heard next on January 31, 2022.

The petitioner organisation that the sect to which its members belong professes strict vegetarianism. Therefore, knowledge of the ingredients that go into the manufacture of everyday use items is their fundamental right under Articles 19, 21 and 25 of the Constitution.

The petition was filed through Advocate Rajat Aneja, seeking the setting-up of a committee to examine the possibility of labelling all consumables. Aneja had argued that the petitioners were at a loss as to which products were fit for consumption by those who professed vegetarianism, since the manufacture of many eatables required non-vegetarian products.

On the last date of hearing, the Bench had noted that the issues raised by the petitioner had a genuine bearing on a person’s right to life, protected under Article 21, and the right to follow and profess their beliefs, which is protected under Article 25 of the Constitution.

“We therefore direct the respondents to seriously examine the issues raised and to respond to the petition within the next three weeks,” the Court had noted in its order.

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