The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has notified a list of permitted “nutrient function” claims that edible oil companies can use on the labels and advertisements of their products.
The regulator in its latest notification said that terms such as “rich in” or “contains” should be in accordance with the conditions laid down under these norms, provided the “food business operators may choose to use the same or similar terms in the claim statements” as listed out in the regulations.
It also said that edible oil companies should ensure “there is no change in the intent and meaning of the claim.” For instance, groundnut oil companies can state “contains monounsaturated fatty acid (MUFA) and Omega-6 Poly Unsaturated Fatty Acid that helps lowering of cholesterol” and “contains Tocopherols which are natural antioxidants,” on the labels and advertisement. Similarly, companies selling olive oils, olive pomace oil, extra virgin olive oil, can state “rich in mono-unsaturated fatty acid (MUFA) that helps to maintain blood cholesterol levels” and “contains polyphenols which are natural antioxidants”, on the labels of the product and their advertisements.
The food safety regulator has outlined claim statements for 15 edible oil categories in the Food Safety and Standards (Advertising and Claims) First Amendment Regulations, 2020. It will come into effect from July 1, 2021. The regulations include permitted claim statements for edible oils such as mustard oil, coconut oil, sunflower oil, sesame oil, soyabean oil, safflower oil, linseed oil or flaxseed oil and palmolein oil, among others.
The FSSAI’s regulations for product categories such as nutraceuticals, health/ dietary supplements, food for special dietary use, etc also has an established mechanism for making disease mitigating claims and provisions have been laid down for claims based on available scientific evidence.
As the country grapples with the Covid-19 pandemic, the retail shelves have been flooded with products with immunity-boosting claims across various categories including packaged food and nutraceuticals as well as Ayurveda and natural products.
An official said any new claim in nutraceuticals, health supplements or dietary supplements categories, where scientific support does not exist, needs prior approval from the food safety authority and there is a rigorous process of scrutiny of scientific evidence provided by companies and importers for non-specified food and food ingredients.
FSSAI had recently also asked State governments to step up surveillance regarding claims and compliance of norms for products in these categories. Ayurvedic food products, however, do not come under the ambit of FSSAI and it is working on formulation of regulations in collaboration with the Ayush Ministry for Ayurveda based foods, also known as Ayurveda Aahaar.
At the same time, Ministry of Ayush has also asked Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) to step up surveillance of advertisements with claims that violate the Ministry’s guidelines during the times of the pandemic.
Manisha Kapoor, Secretary General, ASCI said that so far 233 advertisements have been flagged off to the Ayush Ministry for violation of government’s guidelines by ASCI. She added that all advertisers need to substantiate their claims with evidence and a committee of technical experts at ASCI scrutinises these claims.
“Over 500 advertisements with Covid-related claims have been screened so far which include categories such as packaged food and personal care. Out of this 233 advertisements were flagged off to Ayush Ministry. Also three advertisements were asked to be immediately suspended,” Kapoor added. ASCI also works closely with various government departments including Ministry of Consumer Affairs and FSSAI in this regard.