Complan claiming to help children grow taller, Akshay Kumar doing impossible daredevilry to steal a bottle of Thumps Up, Maggi 2-minute noodles extolling ‘taste bhi, health bhi’… all these ads may soon disappear as the government prepares to roll out an advertisement code for food and beverages products from next year. In a first for the country, the health ministry is set to implement an exhaustive set of guidelines for self-regulation in all advertisements of foods and beverages, under the Food Safety & Standards Act, a ministry official said. The guidelines, sent to companies over the weekend, will put under the scanner claims about health benefits and products being a substitute for fresh fruits, vegetables or meals.
It will also provide for scrutinising the ingredients used in foods, portion sizes, credibility of communication aimed at children and rural consumers, labelling on food packs, celebrity endorsements, endorsements by institutions, and ads that undermine the role of parental guidance.
“With a mandate to restrict unfair and misleading food advertising and armed with penalising powers, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has set in motion an initiative to curb the practice,” an FSSAI official said, requesting anonymity. India has no legal framework to monitor ads.
As of now, there is no legal framework regulating advertising standards in India. The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) monitors ads for misleading claims, but it cannot take any legal action.
“Different industry stakeholders will have to examine implications of the guidelines. Once that is done, accordingly, the guidelines can be taken forward,” said Neeraj Chandra, vice-president, sales, marketing and innovation, of Britannia Industries.
The head of another foods company, who did not want to be named, said some of the guidelines, such as the one on celebrity endorsement, needed clarity. “How will the government enforce and monitor the guideline, of say, a celebrity endorsing a cola (brand)?” According to the guideline, “celebrities or prominent people who promote food should recognise their responsibility towards society and not promote food in such a way so as to undermine a healthy diet.”
Piyush Pandey, executive chairman and creative director (South Asia) of Ogilvy & Mather, said the agency will follow the guidelines after examining them. “Most of the brands that are with us, in any case, follow stringent advertising guidelines,” he said. Ogilvy’s creative accounts include Coca-Cola and Cadbury. While various jurisdictions around the world have specific guidelines and codes to dictate minimum standards for food ads, most of these codes are self-regulatory.
In many world markets, companies such as Unilever, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Kellogg’s, General Mills and Kraft Foods have come together under the EU Pledge to selfregulate responsible advertising.
In India, ASCI has a code for self-regulation in advertising in place. The FSSAI — set up to implement the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, to consolidate laws relating to the foods and beverages sector including the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act — is now in talks with the council to implement and executive these guidelines under its purview.
Consumption of suggested portions of foods which undermine importance of healthy lifestyles, foods high in sugar, fat or salt that portray ‘health benefits’, ads of products aimed at consumers in rural markets, ads directed at children that make consumers believe their consumption will improve intelligence or physical growth without scientific evidence, claims of ads not inconsistent with information on the label or packaging of the food, or claims that are inconsistent with information on label packs will all be examined.
Advertising, as defined by the upcoming Act, will include “any audio or visual publicity through all media including the internet, and includes any notice, circular, label, wrapper, invoice or other documents”.