When “vegetarian” is “non-vegetarian”: what the Delhi High Court said



The Delhi High Court has asked the food security regulator to ensure that food business operators make full disclosures on anything that goes into a food article – “not only by their code names, but also by indicating whether they are of plant or animal origin, or if they are made in the laboratory, regardless of their percentage in the food. ‘food article’.

Operators must strictly adhere to Regulation 2.2.2 (4) of the Food Safety and Standards (Packaging and Labeling) Regulations 2011 “on the basis that the use of any ingredient – to any extent or percentage , which comes from animals, would make the food item non-vegetarian, ”the court said.

“Everyone has the right to know what they are consuming, and nothing can be offered to the person on a set by resorting to deception or camouflage,” a division bench of Judges Vipin Sanghi and Jasmeet Singh said in a statement. order placed on December 9.

What are the labeling requirements under the 2011 Regulations?

The Regulations define non-vegetarian foods as containing “all or part of an animal, including birds, freshwater or marine animals or eggs or products of any animal origin, but excluding milk or Dairy products “.

All non-vegetarian foods must be labeled with “a circle filled with brown color … [of a specified diameter] inside a square with a brown outline having sides double the diameter of the circle ”. When the egg is the only non-vegetarian ingredient, a “statement to that effect [may be given] in addition to the said symbol ”. Vegetarian foods should be labeled with a “circle filled with green color… inside the square with a green outline”.

Regulations also require manufacturers to post a list of ingredients along with their weight or volume. Manufacturers must disclose what types of edible vegetable oil, edible vegetable fat, animal fat or oil, fish, poultry meat or cheese, etc. were used in the product.

“Where an ingredient itself is the product of two or more ingredients”, and such a “compound ingredient constitutes less than five percent of the food, the ingredient list of the compound ingredient, other than a food additive, does not need to be declared. », Specifies the Rules.

Who went to court and why?

Ram Gaua Raksha Dal, a non-government trust that works for the safety and welfare of cows, filed a petition in October to demand the implementation of existing rules and prayed that all products, including non -consumables such as dishes, portable items and accessories, should be marked according to the ingredients used. For food products, the petition asked on the label not only the ingredients, but also the elements used in the manufacturing process.

The trust, whose members are followers of the Namdhari sect, argued that the community strongly believes in strict adherence to vegetarianism and that their religious beliefs also prohibit the use, in any form, of products containing the products. of animal origin.

So what’s the deal with labeling?

The court said the law “has the very clear intention and expressly provides for a declaration on all food products … as to whether they are vegetarian or non-vegetarian.” However, “it appears that some food business operators profit – following a misreading of the Regulation, from the fact that the Act does not specifically require [them] to disclose the source from which the ingredients are derived – which go into the manufacture / production of food articles, with… specific express exceptions ”.

The court gave the example of disodium inosinate, a food additive found in instant noodles and potato chips, which is commercially made from meat or fish. “A little Google search … shows that it often comes from pork fat,” he said.

When such ingredients are used, often “only the ingredient codes are disclosed, without actually revealing on the packaging what the source is, i.e. whether it is a product of plant origin. or animal, or if it is a chemical produced in a laboratory. “, said the court.” Many food products containing ingredients of animal origin are presented as vegetarian by affixing the green dot. “

So what directives did the court issue?

The court said that the use of non-vegetarian ingredients, even in “a tiny percentage”, “would render these food products non-vegetarian and offend the religious and cultural sensitivities / feelings of strict vegetarians, and interfere with their right to profess, freely practice and propagate their religion and belief ”.

The failure of authorities to verify these shortcomings results in non-compliance with the 2006 Food Safety and Standards Act and its regulations, the court said.

He ordered food business operators “to ensure full and strict compliance with Regulation 2.2.2 (4)”, (“Declaration regarding vegetables or non-plant products”) and observed that “failure to comply … to comply … would expose [them] to, among other things, a collective action for violation of the fundamental rights of the consumer public and to invite punitive damages, apart from prosecution ”.

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