The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) on Friday stressed that it continues to “lay down science-based standards” for packaged food industry. It added that its Advertising Monitoring Committee periodically scrutinises advertisements and claims made by various food companies. It added that the committee in the past six months has reported 138 cases of non-compliance or misleading claims made by brands and the defaulting brands were asked to withdraw or modify their claims.

The regulator stressed that it is “actively discharging its statutory role by acting against the Food Business Operators (FBOs) reported to be involved in making any false/misleading claims on food products to protect the interests of the consumers while ensuring fair trade practices and orderly growth of food industry in the country.”

This statement comes after health drink brand Bournvita faced flak on social media triggering a larger health debate. Though FSSAI did not specifically refer to the controversy, it added that it has taken note of various media reports, including on social media about various health claims made by the FBOs in the country.

According to the Food Safety and Standards (Advertisements & Claims) Regulations, deceptive claims or advertisements are prohibited and are punishable offenses. Defaulting FBOs can be penalised with a fine extending up to ₹10 lakhs and their licenses can be suspended or cancelled in case of repeated offences. “Any nutrient function claims and other functional claims made on the food products are required to be based on the current and relevant scientific evidence,” it stated.

FSSAI added that where a claimed health benefit is attributed directly to the product, it needs to be based on statistically significant results from well-designed human intervention studies, “conducted by or under guidance of established research institutions, in line with the principles of GCP (Good Clinical Practices) and peer-reviewed or published in a peer-reviewed reputed scientific journal.”

The regulator added that it has set up a dedicated Advertisement Monitoring Committee which periodically scrutinises the advertisements and claims being made by the FBOs on various channels including social media and e-commerce platforms. “During the last six months, the Committee has scrutinized advertisements and claims on many food products and has reported 138 cases including that of many prominent brands as non-compliant and misleading for the consumers and for further enforcement actions, the same have been referred to the concerned licensing authorities for issuance of notices to all such FBOs for withdrawing of misleading claims or scientifically substantiate the same,” it added.

It added that licensing cum designated officers can ask such FBOs to submit scientific evidence for their health claims. In case of unsatisfactory response, the FBO is required to withdraw such claims or modify them as per the provisions of the regulations. FBOs failing to adhere to norms can be penalised with fines, suspension or cancellation of license