14 Nov 2010

Imported sweets/chocolates to declare ingredients: High Court

Holding that it was mandatory for imported edible items such as sweets and chocolates to declare on their packages the contents and ingredients such that the public could make an informed choice upon its consumption, the Delhi High Court recently in Ferrero Spa v. Shri Maa Distributors passed a direction to the authorities publicize the requirement of such declaration before the edibles are sold in the market and also to ensure that the contents are within the prescribed range for edible items.

The High Court inter alia observed as under;
10. It is apparent from the above discussion that at the stage of seizure, or detention of the goods, and their eventual release, the Central Government had got them chemically examined; the Central Government laboratory in its opinion stated that the products confirmed to the prescribed specifications in the Prevention of Food Adulteration Rules, even though the irregularity in regard to absence of the importer’s name, was disclosed. The controversy as to whether the products contain milk, in this context, does not assume such a predominant consideration. The Government laboratory’s opinion was later endorsed by the FICCI laboratory’s view, of mid October, 2010. Though the plaintiff’s report has been furnished, in this court’s opinion, that cannot outweigh the initial opinion and report of the Central Government food laboratory. Since the suit is at an interim stage, and pertains to adjudication of trademark claims, appropriate orders for their release can be made, after imposing suitable conditions.
11. Rule 32 of the Prevention of Food Adulteration Rules, inter alia, reads as follows:
“32. Every Prepackaged food to carry a label. -
(a) General
(1) Prepackaged food shall not be described or presented on any label or in any labelling manner that is false, misleading or deceptive or is likely to create an erroneous impression regarding its character in any respect. 
(2) Label in prepackaged foods shall be applied in such a manner that they will not become separated from the container.
(3) Contents on the label shall be clear, prominent, indelible and readily legible by the consumer under normal condition of purchase and use.
(4) Where the container is covered by a wrapper, the wrapper shall carry the necessary information or the label on the container shall be readily legible through the outer wrapper or not obscured by it.
(b) Labelling of Prepackaged Foods : Every package of food shall carry the following information on the label. 
(1) The Name of the Food :The name of the food shall include trade name or description of food contained in the package.
(2) List of Ingredients. - A list of ingredients shall be declared on the label and shall be in the following manner:-
(i) the list of ingredients shall contain an appropriate title, such as the term "ingredients";
(ii) the names of ingredients used in the product shall be mentioned in descending order in respect of their composition, by weight or volume, as the case may be;
(iii) every package of food sold as a mixture or combination shall disclose the ingoing percentage, by weight or volume as may be appropriate, of any ingredient at the time of the manufacture of the food (including compound ingredients or categories of ingredients) and if such ingredient,-
(A) is emphasized as present on the label through words or pictures or graphics; or
(B) is essential to characterize the food in order to distinguish the food from other categories of food with which it may be confused; or
(C) is emphasized as ingredients in the name of the food; or
(D) the disclosure of which is deemed to be necessary to enhance the health of consumers or to prevent consumers from being deceived, or
(E) is the subject of an express claim about the presence of any fruits, vegetables, whole grains or added sugars:
……… ………….
“(c)(i) the name and complete address of the manufacture and the manufacturing unit, if these are located at different places and in case the manufacturer is not the packer or  bottler, the name and complete address of the packing or bottling unit as the case may be;
(ii) where an article of food is manufactured or packed or bottled by a person or a company under the written authority of some other manufacturer or company, under his or its brand name, the label shall carry the name and complete address of the manufacturing or packing or bottling unit as the case may be, and also the name and complete address of the manufacturer or the company, for and on whose behalf it is manufactured or packed or bottled;
(iii) where an article of food is imported into India, the package of food shall also carry the name and complete address of the importer in India: Provided that where any food article manufactured outside India is packed or bottled in India, the package containing the such food article shall also bear on the label, the name of the country of origin of the food article and the name and complete address of the importer and the premises of the packing or bottling in India.”
The above provision is an important piece of public interest norm, to ensure accountability towards public health standards, in regard to edible articles offered for sale. In this case, the dispute hinges on rival contentions regarding trademark ownership and usage. Yet, there is a subsidiary issue, since importation, and sale of chocolates with any milk content, of Chinese origin are prohibited. Prima facie, the court is of the opinion that the defendants chocolates do not contain milk, and can be offered in the market. Yet, the labeling in these packets, does not contain the prescribed and listed out details, pertaining to ingredients, and importantly, the name of manufacturer and name and address of the importer. Now, these are extremely vital pieces of information which a potential buyer should be informed about, since in the event of any health condition or concern, arising after consumption, it would be well nigh impossible for the importer, who is responsible for the placing of the product in the market, to be brought to book. Now, any infraction of provisions of the PFA and Rules amounts to an offence. This court, of course, is not called upon to decide that issue. Nevertheless, the court cannot be blind to the question.
12. Diwali is a celebration of light; it is also a time for renewal of familial ties and reaffirmation of friendship. Traditionally, celebration of Diwali begins with the exchange of gifts. Elders in the family present clothes to the younger members; the latter gift sweets for members in the family and so on. Gifts are an occasion for elders in the family to show their love and affection for other members of the family. Social mores have undergone radical changes in the manner of celebration of Diwali and particularly in exchange of gifts. Traditionally when families were big and people did not live far from one another personal visits of relatives and exchange gifts and home-made sweets was the accepted norm. Urban compulsions and a burgeoning middle class has completely transformed these practices; it is passé to exchange home-made sweets perhaps for the simple reason that very few people have the time or inclination to cook them. Therefore, sweets, chocolates, packaged bakery and confectionary items are bought and gifted commonly. Apart from gifts amongst family members, the festival has seen change in values; sweets and such like gifts are routinely given to office colleagues, employees, business associates, and “those who matter”. Time only will tell whether these changes have merit, or are necessary; the point however, is that Diwali time spawns a huge industry which caters to these gifts. Sale of sweets, confectionaries, chocolates, and the like goes up by leaps and bounds. In this background, public health considerations become even more crucial. Often, as in this case, these sweets or chocolates are imported and sold as Diwali packages. The quality and standards for manufacture of these products, however, has to conform to the existing laws. In such instances, it becomes essential that the labels fixed on the packages containing such products should indicate the ingredients, in a clear manner, and also disclose the manufacturer, and importer, with his address, simply to fix responsibility, in the event of a mishap or illness.
13. In view of the above discussion, this court deems it appropriate that the concerned authorities of the Departments of Health and Consumer Affairs, Govt. of NCT of Delhi, as well as the Central Government, Ministry of Consumer Affairs, should take appropriate steps to publish in the media, newspapers and periodicals, as well as the public domain, explaining the existence of these standards, to members of the public, to spread awareness, and exhibit caution while purchasing such goods, in order to prevent any harm to the health and well being of the general public

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