Wednesday, March 6, 2013


World over a significant segment of food industry indulge in unethical practices including mislabeling and misleading advertisements making tall claims about the virtue of their products with no supporting evidence. A vigilant overseeing mechanism can haul up the delinquents for their wrong practices. But it is the advertisements, especially in the electronic media, that become dangerous to vulnerable consumers who believe in them. There is no official technical vetting of the contents of TV commercials before telecasting and this "free for all" arrangement is a win-win situation for both the product promoters and the telecasting companies. Such promoters are so unscrupulous that they indulge in saturation advertisements targeting children and unassuming house wives and unfortunately there are no guidelines for the telecasters in accepting sponsored ads with misleading contents. The Chairman of the Press Council is more interested in politicking than disciplining the reckless media! The latest initiative by FSSAI in clamping down on such culprits is indeed laudatory and must be appreciated.

Why should there be any restriction on such advertisements when most of these are based on some information gleaned out from the literature? Answer is very simple. The claims are often exaggerated and some times misinterpreted and the way the commercial ads are designed, it carries some conviction with the viewers, most of them being children and house wives. Many parents tend to be swayed by  ceaseless ads which are cleverly juxtaposed with popular serials and other programs creating a lasting image of the products promoted. Such impressions, carried as a baggage when going for shopping, translate into buying some of them involuntarily! Imagine who will not be swayed by claims that promise to make their children taller and healthier or make children more intelligent and brainy! 

It is right on the part of FSSAI to find these ads "misleading and deceptive". Take for instance the claims of a brand of Multi-grain Noodles', which unabashedly proclaim day in and day out that the product has nutritional benefits s or for that matter , a brand of cooking oil which promises "healthy heart"!  In still another case FSSAI filed against the advertisements of two brands of beverages for claiming that they provide three times more stamina than an ordinary chocolate drink though the manufacturers concerned do not have any scientific evidence to support such a claim! Citizens in this country must have been fed up by advertisements by a multi national company that its product, containing more than three dozen nutrients, is a "complete food" though there is no such thing in the world as a complete food. Health pundits all over the world want consumers to adopt a diverse diet containing whole grains, fruits and vegetables and unsaturated oil containing foods. If a product containing no grains, no dietary fiber, is claimed as a complete good, it is both unethical and borders on criminal misrepresentation. 

One of the most difficult tasks of a consumer when going for shopping, is to decipher what is presented on the label. Assuming that the consumer has the necessary time and patience to read the label completely the message coming from such labels is often confusing. Many times the information is printed in very small prints which are next to impossible to read, let alone understand. There is no uniformity with regard to the declaration of MRP, pack weight, ingredients, nutritional data, manufacturing date and "best before" date. This is where iconic representation of the quality of a product can be of great help to millions of consumers, especially those who does not understand English or other languages. 

It is one thing to issue notice and another thing to follow it up through deterrent action and whether FSSAI has the necessary determination to punish these culprits remains to be seen. The list of brands against whom notices have been issued includes some of the giants in food product manufacturing and their political clout cannot be under estimated. With most of the legal luminaries, commanding astronomical fees, rushing to take up cases of all hues and colors, no matter how morally or ethically they are not factual, FSSAI can be expected to have a full fight on their hand if these cases are really pursued to their logical end. Here are best wishes for this "Authority" to succeed.


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