Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Success of a consumer product depends on the ability of its manufacturer to convey to the consumer the features of his product and convince him about its USP. Intense competition in the market puts pressure on the manufacturers to make inflated claims regarding the superiority of his product. As long as these claims do not cross the line of verifiable facts, they can be acceptable. The label on the food packet has sufficient provision to print the facts about the product and information such as the identity of the manufacturer, quantity of contents, ingredients, manufacturing date, best before date, nutritional profile, MRP, method of preparation and any other relevant but truthful facts. This can give a fairly good idea to the consumer based on which first time purchase is made. Repeat purchase will happen only if consumer is convinced about the overall quality of the product and the reasonableness of its price.

While Food Standards and Safety Authority of India (FSSAI) is vested with the authority to enforce food laws prevailing in the country, its implementation arm is the concerned state which is supposed to be equipped to inspect, collect samples, analyze them and prosecute if they do not conform to the standards. How ever neither the FSSAI nor the state administration has adequate infrastructure and needed personnel in quality and number for doing a decent job. Recent reports from Ahmedabad and Ludhiana regarding large scale adulteration of food by traders expose the underbelly of FSSAI!

While monitoring of food safety and quality as it exists to day is a sham, what goes on in the advertisement area is a hoax perpetrated by some industry on the unsuspecting consumers. Circumventing regulations that bar printing unsustainable claims on food labels, small screen has become the playing field for some of the unscrupulous industry players to influence the mind of the consumer through saturated advertisements, some time involving icon personalities from sports, film world and even wayward members from the scientific field. Promoting a food claiming faster brain growth, growing stronger, sharper and taller, increasing body stamina, etc will naturally influence any mother or house wife in her purchasing decision.

It has taken the government so long to take notice of this obnoxious behavior on the part of the food industry is some thing alarming about its commitment to protect the citizens from unfair exploitation. In a recent announcement by GOI, a resounding declaration was made that it was going to come down heavily on food industry making `tall' claims about the benefits of their products

through advertisements. Further GOI wants to evolve a specific code to be followed by the industry which will restrict misleading and deceptive claims made on the effect of products on nutrition, health, exceptional intelligence or physical ability. In case of a violation of the code, the FSSAI wants to take action by publicizing the fact through the media which is considered a strong deterrent for potential violators and there is also a provision to impose a penalty of Rs 10 lakh. Lack of a legal framework in the country for regulating advertising standards on food and beverage companies, probably tempts manufacturers to indulge in such devious practices. The Advertising Standards Council has in place a voluntary code for advertisers in general, with no specific guidelines for advertising by food and beverage companies and it is rare that any one is pulled up for such unethical activities.

Consumer will patiently wait to see the words from FSSAI being translated to action in the coming days and if these utterances do not provide the needed deterrence, consumers may eventually rise against the industry as well as the government agencies for defaulting on their responsibilities to protect them from exploitation and dangers of unsafe foods..


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