In December 2021, in Ram Gaua Raksha Dal v. Union of India,1 a Bench comprising of Hon'ble Justices Vipin Sanghi and Jasmeet Singh of the Delhi High Court, while ordering "full and complete disclosure of all the ingredients which go into the manufacture of any food article," noted that "every person has a right to know as to what he/ she is consuming, and nothing can be offered to the person on a platter by resort to deception, or camouflage." The decision came following a plea to the Delhi High Court by a Namdhari Sikh Trust, which had claimed that such nondisclosure violates their right to religious freedom.

This Bench (i.e. comprising of Hon'ble Justices JJ. Sanghi and Singh) had previously ordered the Centre to reply to a plea seeking rigorous enforcement of regulations requiring manufacturers to mark their products as vegetarian or non-vegetarian based on the ingredients used in them within three weeks2.

According to the petition submitted by Ram Gau Raksha Dal, the members of the Petitioner Trust follow the tenets of the Namdhari faith, which is a Sikh sect. They claim that cows are sacrosanct to the community, and that injuring them in any way, much alone for human food or use, is regarded immoral.

Furthermore, the petition asserted that each person has the right to know if the food they eat, the cosmetics and fragrances they use, as well as the clothes they wear include or are created with elements or parts originating from an animal's body.

The petition claimed that it was surprising to see how many animal by-products are crammed into cosmetic products and given false titles for the sake of commercial appeal nowadays.

The following reasons have been stated as reasons for filing the petition:

  1. The lack of any indication or labelling about the nature of the items' components, and the resulting inadvertent consumption by consumers, infringes on every citizen's Fundamental Right to Life and Personal Liberty, as protected under Article 21 of the Indian
  2. The manufacturers' neglect is in violation of Article 25 of the Indian Constitution, which guarantees all people their Fundamental Right to Freedom of Conscience and the right to freely profess and practise their religion. This means that the Constitution safeguards not only the belief in a religion's philosophy, but also the actions taken in support of those
  3. Manufacturers' claims of confidentiality with respect to the ingredients used in producing food, are infringing on citizens' basic right to full disclosure of the contents of products and goods under Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian 
  4. The right to consumer awareness is included in Section 2(9)(vi) of the Consumer Protection Act of 2019, which makes it all the more important for producers to provide an inflow and outflow of authentic facts about the
  5. In recognition of the developing global trend of what is often referred to as "Veganism", individuals must be given the opportunity to choose for themselves to what values they wish to commit their lives;
  6. The lack of any indication or mark of green and red labelling about the nature of the items' components, and the resulting inadvertent consumption by consumers, infringes on every citizen's Fundamental Right to Life and Personal Liberty, as protected under Article 21 of the Indian
  7. The manufacturers' neglect is in violation of Article 25 of the Indian Constitution, which guarantees all people their Fundamental Right to Freedom of Conscience and the right to freely profess and practise their religion. This means that the Constitution safeguards not only the belief in a religion's philosophy, but also the actions taken in support of those
  8. Manufacturers' claims of confidentiality with respect to the ingredients used in producing food, are infringing on citizens' basic right to full disclosure of the contents of products and goods under Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian
  9. The right to consumer awareness is included in Section 2(9)(vi) of the Consumer Protection Act of 2019, which makes it all the more important for producers to provide an inflow and outflow of authentic facts about the
  10. In recognition of the developing global trend of what is often referred to as "Veganism", individuals must be given the opportunity to choose for themselves to what values they wish to commit their

As a result, the petitioner asked for guidelines/policies that would compel manufacturers to identify their goods based on the type of the ingredients as well as the things utilised in the production process. In addition to this, the petitioner also requested to establish an Expert Committee to investigate the viability of identifying all things used by customers as vegetarian or non-vegetarian products.

Usage of Animal Ingredients even in a negligible percentage will make food articles nonvegetarian

  • The Court stated that even though the usage of animal ingredients is in a negligible percentage, the use of such non-vegetarian ingredients would render such food articles nonvegetarian, and also that such use would taint the religious and cultural sentiments of people following strict vegetarianism, thus, resulting in violation of their right to religious freedom and beliefs.
  • The Court mandated that all manufacturers specify such additives on food packaging not only through their code words, but by revealing their sources, such as whether they come from a plant or animal source, or whether they are produced in a lab, regardless of the proportion of such additives in the food product.
  • In addition to this, it must also be accurately revealed what plant or animal source or all of the components are derived from, in whatever proportions they are used and based on the same, appropriate green labelling for the 100% vegetarian food products and red labelling for non- vegetarian food products must be incorporated on the packaging.
  • The Court took notice of the substance classified as E631 signifying Disodium Inosinate, i.e. the disodium salt of inosinic acid having the chemical formula C10H11N4Na2O8P, without mentioning any particular brand. While this component is utilised as a flavour enhancer and typically found in instant noodles, potato chips, and a range of other foods, a quick check on the Google search engine reveals that it is frequently obtained from pig fat.
  • The Court found that, upon perusal and consideration of the relevant provisions of the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, as well as relevant Rules and Regulations framed thereunder, the Act very clearly intends and expressly provides for declaration on all food items being made – as to whether they are vegetarian or non-vegetarian, as defined in the Act. This obligation falls upon respective Food Business Operators (FBO's) to fulfil, independent of their obligation to make disclosure of ingredients in accordance with Regulation 2.2.2, regarding labelling. However, some unscrupulous FBO's are taking advantage of an intentional misreading of the Regulations- that the Act does not specifically oblige them to disclose the source from which the ingredients of food articles, are sourced, except in respect of specific express exceptions. For example, the exemption in respect of compound ingredients, which constitute less than 5% of the food.
  • The Court concluded that the failure of the respondent authorities to check such lapses was leading to non-compliance with the Food Safety and Standards Act and associated Regulations, and leading to deceit of the public at large by such unscrupulous FBO's. Even if it constitutes a minuscule percentage of the food, the public must be aware of what they are consuming, and whether or not the same may be offensive to their sensibilities.

Accordingly, the Court directed the respondent authorities 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 as to whether they originate from plant, or animal source, or whether they are manufactured in a laboratory, irrespective of their percentage in the food article. It should also be fairly disclosed as to what is the plant source, or animal source – as the case may be, in respect of all the ingredients in whatever measure they are used. Failure to do so will open up the impugned FBO's to, inter alia, class action for violation of the fundamental rights of the consuming public and invite punitive damages, apart from prosecution.

Footnotes

1. Order of December 09, 2021; W.P.(C) 12055/2021, The High Court of Delhi.

2. https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/delhi/delhi-hc-directs-centre-to-respond-to-plea-seekinglabelling- of-products-as-veg-non-veg-7617806/

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