One of India’s highest courts delivered a split verdict on whether the country’s relatively new food regulator had the right to subject existing products to its approval process.
The Bombay High Court was ruling on a petition that questioned whether the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) had the power to issue guidelines requiring existing manufacturers to take approval for products already in the market.
The petition filed by Vital Nutraceuticals and the Indian Drug Manufacturers' Association, which was challenging a May 2013 advisory that made it mandatory for packaged food, beverage, health drink and supplement makers to disclose any ingredient or formulation change to the FSSAI.
Of the two-judge bench, Justice VM Kanade ruled on February 4 that such approval for products that are already in the market was unconstitutional.
“If the food authority is permitted to carry out the exercise, it would result in a chaotic situation whereby all existing manufacturers, who have had valid licences for several decades, would be required under the garb of this advisory to obtain product approval even for existing ones,” said Kanade.
“And, until the product approval is not granted, they would be precluded from marketing the said products, which have been on the market for a sufficiently long time,” he added.
However, his colleague, Justice Girish Kulkarni, said the right to safe and uncontaminated food was held to be a fundamental right under the constitution.
“It is well settled that the right to livelihood encompasses the right to live with dignity, which is to have a healthy life which is possible only if safe and wholesome food is available for human consumption,” he said.
“It cannot be overlooked that the issue of food safety and right to have wholesome food is a matter of national as well as international concern.”
Kulkarni added: “There is nothing improper on the part of the food authority to bring about a regime to have a concept of product approval for existing licence-holders or in relation any food business.”
Under the decision, the petition will now be referred to another bench. However, food business operators have been given relief from the February 4 deadline that the FSSAI had set for product approval and licencing, and had extended the deadline by one year to February 4, 2014, after the court granted a four week stay.
The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India was established under the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, and came into force in August 2011.