FSSAI raises concerns over irresponsible advertisements

McDonald gets notice for Ghiya-Tori advertisement

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Advertising and marketing play a key role in people making food choices, particularly among children. FSSAI has expressed deep concern about irresponsible advertising and marketing by food companies. WHO in its resolution on the marketing of food and non-alcoholic beverages to children has asked the member-states to reduce the impact on children of marketing of foods high in saturated fats, trans-fatty acids, free sugars, or salt. It has also recommended that given the effectiveness of marketing it is a function of exposure and power. The overall policy objective is to reduce both the exposure of children and the power of marketing of foods high in saturated fats, trans-fatty acids, free sugars, or salt.

Aligned with the WHO advice, FSSAI has recently finalized the ‘Food Safety and Standards (Advertising and Claims) Regulations, 2018’. Under these regulations, the advertisements should not undermine the importance of healthy lifestyles, and also shall not promote or portray their food and beverages as a meal replacement unless otherwise specifically permitted by FSSAI. Further, no advertisements or claims for articles of foods shall be made by any food business operator that undermines the products of any other manufacturer to promote their products or influence consumer behavior. According to the regulator, violation of these regulations attracts a penalty up to ten lakh rupees under Section (53) of the Food Safety & Standards Act, 2006.

FSSAI is also in the process of finalizing regulations to ensure safe and wholesome food for school children. A key proposal in the regulations is that foods that are high in fat, salt and sugar cannot be sold to school children in school canteens or mess premises or hostel kitchens or within 50 meters of the school campus. Unhealthy diets are a key risk factor in childhood obesity that is rising rapidly. Diets that have an excess of salt and sugar not only harm the body but also the cognitive capabilities of the children. Therefore, at the heart of the proposed regulations is a fundamental idea to make it clear what is healthy for children and what is not and promote healthy eating habits amongst the children. These regulations are in the draft stage.

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In the above context, FSSAI has noted with concern incidences of irresponsible advertising by some food companies to promote sales of their foods often considered unhealthy as a substitute for healthy foods. A full-page advertisement by McDonald’s in newspapers said, “Stuck with Ghiya-Tori Again? Make the 1+1 Combo you love”. Central licensing authority and FSSAI’s designated officer at New Delhi and Mumbai have taken cognizance of this and issued show-cause notices for contravening the provisions of Food Safety and Standards (Advertising and Claims) Regulations, 2018 as to why further action should not be initiated against McDonald` for this.

In recent times, Singapore has banned advertisements for the unhealthy sugary drinks in its latest move to combat rising diabetes rates, the health ministry said. According to the press statement, the products deemed “less healthy” are now required to display labels grading their nutritional and sugar content, with those considered to be most unhealthy banned from appearing in ads across all media platforms, including broadcast, print, and online channels. This aims to reduce the influence of such advertisements on consumer preferences.

Commenting on this development, Pawan Agarwal, chief executive officer of FSSAI said, “The food companies must desist from issuing advertisements or publicity materials which violate Food Safety & Standards Act, 2006 and rules or regulations made thereunder. He added that FSSAI is committed to ensure the availability of safe and wholesome food for all citizens of the country through various means like education, awareness building, and regulatory enforcement and to achieve these goals the Eat Right campaign is going on across the country.”

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