Cholesterol crush: Major Indian dairy firms lose US$100,000 of products over false labelling claims
The confiscated products were Amul Lite and Delicious, produced by the Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation, and Nutralite Fat Spread by Zydus Wellness. Both the Amul and Nutralite brands are common household names in India.
According to an official statement from the Maharashtra FDA, INR7mn (US$97,800) worth of these spreads were confiscated during raids conducted in cold storage facilities across the state, as these were found to be ‘mislabelled’.
“The labels on these products declared them to be ‘zero cholesterol’ or ‘low fat low cholesterol’, but their contents do not match the standards as required by Schedule I (Nutritional Claims) in the Advertising and Claim Regulation 2018 of FSS Act 2006,” said the agency.
As per the Food Safety and Standards Authority India (FSSAI) website, the Advertising and Claim Regulation 2018 states that products that make a ‘low cholesterol’ claim need to have no more than 20mg cholesterol and 1.5 g saturated fat per 100 g (solids) or 10mg cholesterol and 0.75 g of saturated fat per 100 ml (liquids).
For ‘zero cholesterol’ or ‘cholesterol-free’ claims, the product must have no more than 5mg cholesterol per 100g (solids) or 100 ml (liquids). The saturated fat requirements are identical to those for ‘low cholesterol’ claims.
The Nutralite and Delicious spreads claimed to be ‘cholesterol free’ on their labels, and even each of their nutritional information panels said as much – but these same panels also stated that the products contained 35g and 37g of saturated fats respectively, in clear violation of the FSSAI rules.
Amul made a similar violation of the regulation, claiming to be ‘low fat low cholesterol’ but containing 37g of saturated fats.
As of time of publishing, both the Nutralite and Amul websites still maintained their respective product claims. Neither firm responded to our queries, though Zydus previously told Times of India that it ‘could not comment’ and its ‘product claims are in compliance’ with regulations; whereas Amul said that the confiscated items were produced before the rules were enforced.
FSSAI announced the current cholesterol standards for zero or low claims in November 2018, originally set to be enforced by July 1 2019. But, as has been common for the agency, the enforcement of these regulations were delayed for another six months till December 28 2019.
According to FSSAI Deputy Director (Regulations and Codex) P. Karthikeyan, this was because businesses had seen ‘difficulties’ in complying with the new standards, even with the original six month transition period given.
“Representations from various stakeholders were received mentioning the difficulties in complying with these regulations, [which were placed before the] Scientific Panel on Labelling and Claims/Advertisements [and it was decided that enforcement will be in another six months],” he said.
Counting both the original six-month transition period and the six-month extension, a total of one year was given for companies to make the required changes to their products or remove the relevant claims.
Given the fact that the companies still maintain the relevant claims and nutritional information panels on their websites and/or products, it begs the questions: 1) Just how much time is actually needed to make the transition if a year is not enough?, and 2) Just how old were these products, which were still in cold storage and not on-shelf at the time of confiscation?
Marketed as healthier products
Disturbingly, all of these spreads have been marketed locally as butter/margarine replacement products targeted at health and wellness despite having levels of saturated fats that do not meet national standards.
Nutralite’s tagline is ‘Healthier and Delicious’ and proclaims itself to be a ‘healthier alternative to butter’. Amul takes it a step further, stating on the product information webpage that it is ‘specially suited for elderly people and those with health complications for whom the consumption of high cholesterol and high saturated fat products is restricted’.
Delicious has done much the same, saying that it is a ‘preferred choice for people with cardiac ailments due to zero cholesterol level’ – though it made no mention of its saturated fats content.