The court charge was passed in response to a 17-year-old complaint that said Nestlé India had violated theInfant Milk Substitutes Feeding Bottles, and Infant Foods (Regulation of Production, Supply and Distribution) Act of 1992.
The complaint was filed in 1994 by the Association for Consumers Action on Safety and Health (ACASH) - a body that works for the promotion and protection of breast-feeding against commercial infant food makers in India and abroad.
In its ruling, the court charged Nestlé with failing to adhere to the provisions of Sec 3, 6(1)(a), 6(1)(c), and 7(1) of the Act.
One of these related to Nestlé using the term “Breast Milk is Best for Your Baby” rather than “Mother’s Milk is Best For Your Baby” on infant milk product packaging. A charge for failing to publish “Mother's milk is best for your baby” in Hindi on both Cerelac and Lactogen products was additionally filed.
The court also charged Nestlé for not printing a warning that “Infant milk substitute or infant food is not the sole source of nourishment for an infant” on Lactogen and that a notice in Hindi on Cerelac was of smaller size than mandated.
It was also detailed that Nestlé failed to present mandatory information on these products in advertisements issued in five magazines at the time.
Nestlé denies any wrongdoing
Nestlé India is compliant with the applicable laws and regulations relating to infant formula products, Himanshu Malik, communications manager at Nestlé India, told FoodNavigator-Asia.
“In this case, the legal complaint refers to a brief period more than a decade and a half ago when the statutory declarations required on the labels of baby foods were inconsistent under two different acts. We followed the clarifications issued by the government,” Malik said.
The court has decided that the legal complaint against Nestlé can proceed with the framing of charges, he said, but this does not mean the allegations by the complainant are correct.
“We maintain that we have complied with the regulations in this area and we reiterate that we are fully committed to compliance with the relevant legislation,” he added.
Long fight for activists
Dr. Akash Gupta, a complainant in the case and a member of ACASH, told FoodNavigator-Asia that the case has been long caught up in procedural delays and proceedings are not expected to commence before next year.
“This is what should have happened in 1994. The Metropolitan Magistrate was to take the matter on the record then, cross-examine the evidence, summon Nestlé, and then decide whether to proceed with the action or not,” Gupta said.
Nestlé India deployed many delaying tactics in the intermediate years, he said. “One delay was also because the court had lost the evidence that we submitted. It all took time.”
Nestlé has challenged the act itself
Nestlé has called for injunctions and referred to the case in a higher court to delay proceedings in the past, Gupta said.
ACASH was responsible for framing theInfant Milk Substitutes Feeding Bottles, and Infant Foods (Regulation of Production, Supply and Distribution) Act of 1992,with the government, but in 1995, Nestlé went to a higher court to squash this law.
“It sued the Union of India and called the law ambiguous in nature. That case is still pending and Nestlé has often cited it to delay proceedings in lower courts,” he added.
The last hearing in that case was heard in April 2011, according to Gupta, and the judge has reserved his decision for now.
Gupta added that he expects Nestlé to use that case to delay proceeding further in the trial court.