Law unclear if celebrities endorsing food products can be prosecuted

The Maggi controversy has given rise to a new debate on the legal liability of celebrities who endorse food products.

What the law says?

  • There is no specific word in the Food Safety and Standards Act (FSSA) about the extent, or lack, of liability or duty of care of the brand ambassador, who signs on to promote the brand as its ‘face’ and takes on the role of a marketing representative. Sections 24 and 53 of the 2006 Act deal specifically with advertisements.
  • Section 24 (1) says in general terms that “no advertisement shall be made of any food which is misleading or deceiving or contravenes the provisions of this Act, the rules and regulations made thereunder.” Here, it does not explain whether the term “made” is only confined to commissioning the advertisement or its actual making. In the latter case, a brand ambassador does play a part.
  • Subsection (2) of the same section says “no person shall engage himself in any unfair trade practice for the purpose of promoting the sale…” This clause does not specify who the “person” mentioned in it is, thus, making the ambit of the provision pliable.
  • Clauses (a) (b) and (c) of subsection (2) holds this “person” legally responsible for falsely representing the standard and quality of the food product, its need and usefulness and also for giving the public “any guarantee of the efficacy that is not based on an adequate or scientific justification.”

Food Safety and Standards Act 2006:

It was enacted in 2006 and the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare has been designated as the nodal Ministry for administration and implementation of the Act.

  • Act established an independent statutory Authority – the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India with head office at Delhi.

FSSAI has been mandated by the FSS Act, 2006 for performing the following functions:

  • Framing of Regulations to ‘lay down the Standards and guidelines’ for articles of food and specifying ‘appropriate system of enforcing’ various standards so laid.
  • Laying down mechanisms and guidelines for accreditation of certification bodies engaged in certification of food safety management system for food businesses.
  • Laying down procedure and guidelines for accreditation of laboratories and notification of the accredited laboratories.
  • To provide scientific advice and technical support to Central Government and State Governments in the matters of framing the policy and rules in areas which have a direct or indirect bearing of food safety and nutrition.
  • Collect and collate data regarding food consumption, incidence and prevalence of biological risk, contaminants in food, residues of various, and contaminants in foods products, identification of emerging risks and introduction of rapid alert system.
  • Creating an information network across the country so that the public, consumers, Panchayats etc. receive rapid, reliable and objective information about food safety and issues of concern.
  • Provide training program for persons who are involved or intend to get involved in food businesses.
  • Contribute to the development of international technical standards for food, sanitary and phyto-sanitary standards.
  • Promote general awareness about food safety and food standards.

Sources: The Hindu, fssai.gov.in.

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