India’s food safety regulator has proposed that an imitation product that is designed to be offered as an alternative to milk shouldn’t use the term if the said product is derived using non-dairy sources.
The move has, however, been opposed by animal rights groups and campaigners, including BJP Lok Sabha MP Maneka Gandhi.
The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has recently issued a draft notification proposing change of use of current nomenclature of ‘milk’ so that it can be used only for animal derived milk and its products.
The FSSAI will take its final call after September 18. In the meantime, it has asked stakeholders and citizens to submit their comments and suggestions on its draft — Food Safety and Standards (Food Products Standards and Food Additives) Amendment Regulations, 2020.
Protesting the regulator’s move, Maneka on Monday flagged concerns of plant-based milk users to health minister Harsh Vardhan and urged him to withdraw the proposed amendment in the existing 2011 regulations.
Calling the proposed categorisation “unreasonable”, Gandhi in her letter to the minister said there were an increasing number of consumers in the country who demanded dairy alternatives for reasons of fitness, health or dairy allergies.
She noted that the “restrictive labelling standards” by the FSSAI would affect the trade of plant-based food businesses and lead to consumer deception.
The BJP leader, who is also chairperson of the People for Animals (PFA), in her four-page letter even hinted that the proposed amendment, due to evident inclination towards the dairy industry, will be challenged in the Court.
“It is certain to fail the test of reasonability, for its disproportionate imposition, for acting against the larger public interest,” said Gandhi.
Other animal rights bodies such as Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations (FIAPO) too opposed the FSSAI’s draft notification, saying the proposed amendment aims to challenge the age-old established practices of India which has been traditionally using the term ‘milk’ for both plant based and animal derived milk.
Non-dairy products offer a wide range of benefits. They also have their own identity and ingredients. However, to use the word ‘milk’ for non-dairy products could indeed be misleading for some. Every consumer product should be totally transparent and reflect what it actually is. FSSAI is right in asking for a distinction between the two.