It underlined 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.
The court also directed the Centre and FSSAI to ensure that there is full and complete disclosure of all the ingredients that go into the manufacture of any food articles, not only by their code names but also by disclosing if they originate from plant or animal source or whether they are manufactured in a laboratory, irrespective of their percentage in the food article.
A bench of justices Vipin Sanghi and Jasmeet Singh said that failure of the authorities in checking such lapses is leading to not only non-compliance of the Food Safety and Standards Act and the Regulations, but also allowing deceit by such food business operators of the public at large, particularly those who wish to profess strict vegetarianism.
“Even though their usage may constitute a miniscule percentage, the use of non-vegetarian ingredients would render such food articles non-vegetarian, and would offend the religious and cultural sensibilities/sentiments of strict vegetarians, and would interfere in their right to freely profess, practice and propagate their religion and belief. 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 deceit, or camouflage,” the bench said.
The court added that failure on the part of the food business operators to comply with the above requirements “would expose them to class action for violation of the fundamental rights of the consuming public and invite punitive damages, apart from prosecution.”
The bench cited an example of a food additive 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.
“Many food articles that have ingredients sourced from animals are passed off as vegetarian by affixing the green dot,” it noted, ruling in favour of a petitioner organisation Ram Gau Raksha Dal — a trust working towards the welfare of cows — which claimed that there are certain “non-vegetarian” products that are unknowingly consumed by those professing vegetarianism due to absence of proper disclosures.