There must be a complete disclosure regarding a food article being vegetarian or non-vegetarian as fundamental rights of every person are impacted by what is offered on the platter, the Delhi High Court said on Wednesday.
The high court directed the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) to issue a fresh communication to all the authorities concerned stating the obligation to make clear disclosure as to whether the food article is vegetarian or non-vegetarian.
A bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and D K Sharma passed the order 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".
The court agreed with the submission made by the petitioner's counsel that it is pointless to issue such a communication to the authorities and not to the general public whose fundamental rights are affected.
"We direct that the fresh communication/ order be given wide publicity to in all the national dailies," the bench said.
It further said, "Since the right of every person under Article 21 (protection of life and personal liberty) and Article 25 (freedom to conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion) under the Constitution is impacted by what is offered on a platter, in our view it is fundamental that a full and complete disclosure regarding the food article being vegetarian or non-vegetarian is made a part of consumer awareness." The bench said it was of the view that failure on the part of authorities in ensuring that full and complete disclosure as to whether any packaged food article is vegetarian or non-vegetarian also defeats the object for which the Food Safety and Standards Act was enacted.
The court also directed the FSSAI and the Centre to file detailed counter affidavits in the matter and listed the plea for further proceedings on May 21.
The bench noted that in pursuance to its earlier order, FSSAI issued a communication to all the authorities concerned on December 22, 2021, stating that in view of the regulatory provisions, read with FSS (Labeling and display) Regulations, 2020, every package of 'non-vegetarian' food having ingredients including additives, from animal sources but excluding milk or milk products, honey or bees wax or carnauba wax or shellac, shall bear a symbol and colour code to indicate that the product is non-vegetarian.
It is clarified that the declaration regarding non-veg or veg food is mandatory irrespective of the percentage of any ingredient in the food, the communication said.
Advocate Rajat Aneja, appearing for petitioner Ram Gaua Raksha Dal -- a trust working towards the welfare of cows, submitted that the December 22, 2021 communication still leaves a lot of ambiguity and does not clearly require food business operators to make a disclosure as to whether or not the food item is veg or non-veg on the basis that even if its use is miniscule, it would make the article non-veg.
The high court had earlier said that the 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 court had 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.
It had directed the Centre, represented through standing counsel Ajay Digpaul, 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 was informed about an ingredient, which is a food additive 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 petitioner organisation 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 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.
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