India: FSSAI Regulations With Respect To Statutory Warning On Liquors

Last Updated: 3 May 2019
Article by Shubham Borkar and Manuraj Parmar
Most Read Contributor in India, May 2019

Recently a draft with respect to Food Safety and Standards (Alcohol Beverages Standards) Regulations, 2016 was published as the requirement mentioned under sub- section (1) of Section 92 of the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006.

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India is the apex body as far as food laws in the country are concerned which has initiated several strict measures in order to implement proper food safety regulations and policies in the food industry. The main objective of FSSAI is to regulate the food business in such a way as to take care of public health and safety for all purposes. FSSAI has been involved in routine inspections of food businesses in order to check registration and license with respect to FSSAI. The Food Safety and Standards (Food Products Standards and Food Additives) Regulations, 2011 has standard for only toddy in the form of alcohol beverages which is mentioned in clause (1) of the sub regulations 2.10.5 which has been related to the alcohol beverages. As various alcohol beverages have their different requirements with respect to their standards and labeling patterns, a separate regulation for alcohol beverages was proposed and notified.

In a report published in the year 2017, World Health Organization stated that Labeling of alcoholic product can be considered as one of the important component of public health strategy in order to reduce the harm caused by alcohol. In order to establish a better social understanding it is very important to state the health related issues in the form of labels on the alcohol beverages. BMC Public Health department conducted a study in the year 2014 in which it has concluded that "Cancer warning statements on alcohol beverages increases awareness among the people consuming it".

There are laws with respect to safeguards and health measures for all citizens in the country. Article 47 of Indian Constitution under Directive Principles of State Policy states that the state has a duty to raise the standard of living, level of nutrition and improvement with respect to the public health as it is the primary duty of the state. It has also been stated that the state shall endeavor to bring prohibition on the consumption except in the medical cases of intoxicating drinks and drugs which are considered to be injurious to health.

As per the guidelines of WHO the spirits have a maximum alcohol content of 42.8% but on comparison the country spirits are said to be stronger as its alcohol content is said to be around 50%. The FSSAI as per now didn't have any standards to regulate the country spirits alcohol strength. Alcohol is not the only product which is required to carry statutory warning. The Cigarettes (Regulation of production, distribution and Supply) Act 1975 makes it mandatory for the cigarettes manufacturer and tobacco companies to provide a clear statutory warning on the packets containing cigarettes. In Murli S Deora v. Union of India1 the Supreme Court prohibited smoking of cigarettes at public places such as hospitals, auditoriums, schools, colleges etc. Furthermore the Hon'ble Supreme Court stated that 'Tobacco is regarded as one of the most dangerous public health hazards universally which is responsible for approximately 8 lakh deaths annually.

STATUTORY WARNING LABELS ON ALCOHOL BOTTLES IN INDIA

The Food Safety and Standards (Alcohol Beverages) Regulations, 2018 make it mandatory for the manufacturers of alcohol to carry a statutory warning that "Consumption of alcohol is injurious to health". Along with this the liquor bottle must also carry "Don't drink and drive" on its label. The direction has been passed under Section 16(5) of Foods Safety and Standards Act. The new rule will come into enforcement from 1st April, 2019. This development follows an order passed by Delhi High Court on petition filed by the NGO community against drink and driving. Drinking and driving is considered to be an intentional crime and it must be treated as a pre-mediated criminal activity as the person who is driving the car is very well aware of the fact that in such case accident can be caused which can lead to significant harm to him and others also. The data of India's Union Ministry of Road, Transport and Highways stated that the drunk and drive accounts for approximately 4.8% of total accidents in every year. It has been observed that in such cases more than 70% of victims are said to be perished. The same shall apply to all distilled alcohol beverages which includes rum, vodka, whiskey, brandy, country liquor and gin. A six month time period has been provided to the manufacturers for use of both "printed cans and unused labels". It has been also been provided that there must be specific requirement for labeling of alcohol beverages in addition to the labeling provided and mentioned by Food Safety and Standards Regulations, 2011. If the alcohol content is more than 0.5% then in such case the specific labeling will have to included to mention the volume of the alcohol content, labeling of standard drinking, and the same must not include any nutritional information and health claims and restrictions imposed on the words such as 'non-intoxicating' or synonyms of such meanings.

Many wine bases products have mandatory regulations which indicates the country of origin, its sugar quantity, the type of grape or fruit which has been used along with the name of residues of preservatives or additives added or present in it. Also some other labeling requirements of alcohol beverages include the description of the generic name of the variety of grape and raw material used in making the final product. If in case any food product contains alcohol within it then in such cases it must be represented accurately that the product contains alcohol. All liquor bottles need to comply with the specific labeling requirements along with the general labeling provisions which had been specified by the Food Safety and Standards (Packaging and Labeling).

ALCOHOL STATUTORY WARNING REGULATIONS IN OTHER COUNTRIES

India is not the first country which has implemented such mandatory labeling provision with respect to Alcohol labeling. In Australia, the manufacturers of alcohol are required to put warning labels with respect to drinking alcohol during the period of pregnancy 2. In Ireland due to the influence of Irish Cancer Society the government is required to put warning labels describing the alcohol's carcinogenic properties 3. Since 1989, USA has laid several emphasis on the warning labels on alcohol beverages 4. The alcohol manufacturers in USA are required to warn about the risk of drinking and driving, operating some kind of machinery while drinking, and the harms of drinking when pregnant. In Thailand, under Section 32 of the law, the alcohol beverages are not required to be advertised in such a manner that it directly or indirectly claims the benefits arising from having alcohol. According to their law, the declaration which is issued as per the order of the act needs to be accompanied by at least one out of five predefined statutory warning5.

CRITERIA REGARDING STATUTORY WARNING

The notification issued by FSSAI has mandated the liquor industry to carry

  1. Such warnings in a square shaped box on the same lines as that of the tobacco industry.
  2. The font size for the same must not be less than 3 mm,
  3. It must be in English language.

(In the 13th meeting of Scientific Panel on water and beverages, a recommendation was being made by the panel with respect to the font size of statutory warning on alcohol beverages and according to the regulators specifications, the bottles of up to 200 ml must carry a labeled warning in capital letters and the same should not be higher than 1.5 mm, on the other hand the bottles which are larger than 200 ml must carry letters 3 mm high.)

It has also been stated that if any state wishes to print such statutory warning in their respective local or regional language then the same must be allowed and in such cases there is no need to repeat the English version of the statutory warning. This is an attempt in order to make people more aware of the harmful effects of drinking alcohol beverages on their health. However as the manufacturers used to follow the excise laws and standards which are set up by the Bureau of Indian Standards due to which no label were been created by the act.

  • Alcohol beverage which contains less than 10% of alcohol that are other then the wine must mention the date, month, and year of expiry on the label.
  • In case if the wine contains more than 10mg sulfur dioxide per litre then the label must need to declare that it contains sulfur dioxide or contains sulfite.
  • Furthermore if the wine contains ingredients such as egg white or any processing aid of animal origin then it must be mentioned in the form of label with a non vegetarian logo.

The notification that has been issued by FSSAI has also stated that it has been decided to defer implementation of parameters with respect to yeast in certain categories of beers. There are also certain modifications with regard to various specific provisions for alcohol beverages such as the tolerance limit prescribed for ethyl alcohol, the regulations which are specified for the low alcohol beverages, the entry of new type of Indian Brandy, regulations with regard to malt whiskey and dry wine etc. In the year 2017, a PIL was filed by Prince Singhal against the drunk and drive scenario in which Delhi High Court seeking direction from FSSAI with regard to the mention of the statutory warning on the alcohol beverages. Countries such as USA, South Africa, Mexico, Turkey etc had implemented such regulations.

TREATMENT OF EXISTING LIQUOR LABELS

The regulation with respect to statutory warning has been enforced by the FSSAI on the liquor bottles. A prescribed time limit of 6 months has been provided to all the liquor manufacturers for using the labels which are still in existence and printed cans of existing alcohol beverages. FSSAI has stated that the alcohol that has been manufactured before 1st April, 2019 can be allowed to be sold in the market up to 31st March, 2020. This decision has been taken purely in the interest of public health and safety. All the liquor manufacturers and dealers must need to posses registration or license of FSSAI with respect to their scale of operation.

CAN THIS BE EXTENDED TO PLAIN PACKAGING IN NEAR FUTURE

Plain Packaging means selling of a products in the form of standardized or generic packets without adding any kind of attractive trademark, logos or brand names or colours. The brand name must be substituted by some sort of health warnings. Australia is the first country which has passed the plain packaging law in the form of Tobacco Plain Packaging Act, 2011. In India 75% of tobacco products are sold without any enforcement mechanism to check implementation of such type of practices. The concept of plain packaging can be applied in the cases of alcohol as well, but the introduction of plain packaging, will definitely lead to violation of the rights guaranteed under the Trademark Act. One of the biggest cons of plain packaging on IPR is that it will led to the increase of counterfeiting products in the market because there will be no brand recognition on the products. It can lead to the sale of more poor quality products which will in turn cause more harm to the consumers as compared to the original one. Also the amount spend by the Alcohol manufacturing companies on advertisements and publicity of the products and there brand names will be relinquished and further it will lead to the IPR attorney without clients. Not only this, the plain packaging deprives the manufacturer of their Intellectual Property Rights which will further violate the International Standards which are associated with Intellectual Property Rights.. Therefore, there is a clear No No as far as Plain Packaging is considered

CONCLUSION

There are statutory warnings on both alcohol and cigarettes, but it only mentions that 'Alcohol consumption is injurious for heath' and 'Smoking is injurious' to health. The users who are having it most probably know that consumption of such products is likely to be injurious to the health but it is not a sufficient step in order to reduce its consumption. In order to reduce the consumption of alcohol it must be shown in the statutory warning that which parts of the body it affects the most, which major disease it can cause, death toll in the country, and some pictures of the affected people or their body parts. As sometimes visuals can do what words could not.

References:

1 (2001) 8 SCC 765; AIR 2002 SC 40; 2002 (1) ALD 88 SC; 2001 (6) ALT 35 SC

2 "Mandatory warning labels to be introduced on alcohol". Food & Drink Business. 15 October 2018.

3 Finn, Christina. "Irish Cancer Society urges minister not to drop proposed cancer warning labels on alcohol products". TheJournal.ie.

4 Boyle, Peter; Boffetta, Paolo; Lowenfels, Albert B.; Burns, Harry; Brawley, Otis (2013). Alcohol: Science, Policy and Public Health. Oxford University Press. p. 391. ISBN 9780199655786.

5 Alcohol Control Act B.E. 2551 (2008)" (PDF). The Office of Alcohol Control Committee. Government of Thailand. Retrieved 12 September 2017.

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