Plea in Delhi HC over ‘misbranding’ of plant-based products as that of milk
The Delhi high court has asked the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) to take instructions on a plea by National Cooperative Dairy Federation of India (NCDFI) alleging misbranding of plant-based products as milk products.
Justice Rekha Palli posted the plea for hearing on Monday after the FSSAI counsel sought time.
NCDFI, functioning as the apex body of the cooperative dairy industry said that its members, totalling 17,216,000, are engaged in manufacturing and marketing of milk and milk products. They also include dairy product giant Amul India.
The petition said that there are various business entities which have been misbranding and mislabelling their plant-based food or beverages extracted from almond, soya, and oats etc., as milk and other dairy terms such as paneer, curd, and yoghurt.
It said that the statutory scheme of the Food Safety Act, 2006, and its allied regulations prevent the use of the word ‘milk’ and other dairy terms for any plant-based food/extracts as these do not qualify as milk, milk product or composite milk product.
The petitioner has made Hershey’s India and Epigamia as parties in the petition which would be now heard on May 24.
Reacting to the petition, Gauri Maulekhi, trustee of People for Animals, said; “The dairy sector is riddled with cruelty to animals in a variety of ways. The dairy cooperatives are villianising innovations that provide sustainable healthy alternatives like the plant-based milk and plant-based milk products. Not only are they attempting to dictate to the regulator to create lopsided policies but are also utilising judicial systems to bully startups that are bringing solutions to unsustainable dairy practices.”
Alokparna Sengupta, managing director of Humane Society International India said; “In the middle of a raging pandemic, usurping the court’s time to punish a sector which is not even a competition to the dairy industry not only insensitive but makes a mockery of the suffering we are seeing around. Plant-based alternatives to dairy are being chosen for various reasons -- whether ethical, environmental or health.”
“Despite this trend [of plant-based milk and its products] across the world, India has only seen a slow increase...We were making and using coconut milk and cream for centuries. How can that suddenly be changed because the said cooperative is now imagining a threat? Coconut milk, soy milk, tofu and milk from plants have been in existence for centuries. There cannot be an exclusive claim to the term milk!” she said.