The Supreme Court on Tuesday said the Centre should “activate itself” against Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) companies if they employ “misleading advertisements” about their products to target credulous consumers, especially families with babies and school children.

“The misleading advertisements of FMCGs take the public for a ride, particularly families, affecting their health. The issue concerns even the health of babies and school children,” Justice Hima Kohli, heading a Bench with Justice Ahsanuddin Amanullah, observed.

Nestle products

The court voiced its concern amidst recent reports alleging higher sugar content in Nestle’s baby food products sold in India as well as in African and Latin American countries. The Union Consumer Affairs Ministry has asked the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) to investigate the allegations against the leading FMCG.

“There have been advertisements misrepresenting products for babies… This is under the scrutiny of the Union government. If these advertisements target babies and children, if that is happening, the Union has to activate itself,” Justice Kohli underscored.

On Monday, the court widened the scope of the case and decided to implead the Ministries of Consumer Affairs and Information and Broadcasting as parties in the case. The AYUSH Ministry is already represented in the case. Additional Solicitor General KM Nataraj appeared for the Union government.

Centre’s efforts

Justice Kohli asked whether the Centre was taking any efforts to identify FMCG companies which resort to misleading advertisements.

Justice Kohli pointed out that the Advertising Standards Council of India had flagged 948 objectionable advertisements to the AYUSH Ministry in the past two years. “What follow-up action did you take on this information?” the judge asked.

Justice Amanullah said he recently saw a channel flash news about the Supreme Court hearing in the case even as a part of the screen was taken up by a FMCG company’s misleading advertisement.

“It was ironic,” Justice Amanullah said.

Contempt case

The court was hearing a contempt case against Patanjali Ayurved, its co-founder and yoga guru Baba Ramdev and his associate Acharya Balkrishna for continuing to advertise their ayurvedic drugs in violation of the Drugs and Magic Remedies Act despite an undertaking given to the Supreme Court.

On April 10, the Bench had similarly expressed its misgivings about the extent of vigil over products advertised and sold by FMCG companies.

“The victim is always the public. We are concerned with all those FMCG companies who are taking their consumers and clients up and down the garden path, showing them very rosy pictures about what their products can do for them. People, who pay good money for these products, finally end up suffering at the cost of their health… That is absolutely unacceptable,” Justice Hima Kohli had observed.

The court had in this context referred to Patanjali’s claims that its medicines could cure Covid-19 during the months of pandemic.