Use of non-vegetarian ingredients and labelling them vegetarian would offend religious and cultural sentiments of strict vegetarians and interfere in their right to freely profess their religion, the Delhi High Court has said.
The court observed that everyone has a right to know what they are consuming and nothing can be offered to them on a platter by resorting to deceit and camouflage.
The high court directed the Centre and FSSAI 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 whether they originate from plant or animal source or whether they are manufactured in a laboratory, irrespective of their percentage in the food article.
The court’s order came while hearing a plea for labelling “all items” used by the public, including home appliances and apparel, as “vegetarian” or “non-vegetarian” on the basis of their ingredients and “items used in manufacturing process”.
A bench of justices Vipin Sanghi and Jasmeet Singh said failure of the authorities in checking such lapses is leading to not only non-compliance of the Food Safety and Standards Act and the Regulations, but also leading to deceit by such food business operators of the public at large, particularly those who wish to profess strict vegetarianism.
“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.
“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. 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 bench said.
The high court also directed the food business operators to ensure full and strict compliance of the Food Safety and Standards (Packaging and Labelling) Regulations 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.
“We may observe that 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,” the bench said.
The court directed FSSAI to verify claims made by the food business operators and the connivance or failure on the authorities’ part or its officers to perform their duties shall expose them to claims by the aggrieved parties and prosecution under the law.
It added that this order should be given adequate publicity to put everyone concerned to notice of their legal and constitutional obligations and rights and directed the FSSAI to file a compliance report of these directions before the next date on January 31.
The court was informed about an ingredient, which is a food addictive and often found in instant noodles, potato chips and a variety of other snacks and is coded in the trade, which is commercially prepared from meat or fish.
The court said a Google search showed that the ingredient is often sourced from pig fat and even though it is a food additive, yet the food business operators often do not disclose in their packaging that the food article in which this ingredient is used, is a non-vegetarian product.
“Even though several such like ingredients are used, merely the codes of the ingredients are disclosed, without actually disclosing on the packaging as to what is the source, that is, whether it is plant based, or animal based, or it is a chemically manufactured in a laboratory. Many food articles which have ingredients sourced from animals are passed off as vegetarian by affixing the green dot,” it noted.
The plea was filed by Ram Gaua Raksha Dal – a trust working towards the welfare of cows – which claimed that there are certain “non-vegetarian” products that are unknowingly used or consumed by those professing vegetarianism due to absence of proper disclosures.
The petitioner, represented by lawyer Rajat Aneja, said there are several items and commodities which are used in “everyday lives” without those professing vegetarianism realising that they are either derived from animals or processed using animal-based products.
It said “along with various edibles and cosmetics that clearly include animal-derived products as their active ingredients, there also exist various cosmetics as well as food items, which though, do not contain any animal-based product in the list of their ingredients, and are therefore, marked as vegetarian, however, are manufactured by using animal-derived products.”
“The primary endeavour of the petitioner is…not only (for) strict enforcement of the existing Rules and Policies of labelling products as Green, Red and Brown, based on the nature of ingredients of a particular product, but also for directing the concerned authorities to make it mandatory for the manufacturers of food products, cosmetics, perfumes; home appliances like crockery, wearable items (apparel, belts, shoes etc.); accessories (necklaces, wallets etc.), and to label all such products similarly,” it said.