FSSAI has launched campaigns that focus on healthy eating habits.
The underfunded and understaffed Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) sure found the resources to wade into an advertising controversy. The food regulator has just served McDonald’s a show-cause notice over an ad that it believes disparages healthy options like ghiya-tori (bottle gourd and ridge gourd). “Tendency of the food companies to disparage freshly cooked food and vegetables that are healthier is a matter of grave concern,” FSSAI has said, adding that such advertisements are against national efforts for promoting healthier eating habits. FSSAI has launched campaigns that focus on healthy eating habits. But, censuring them for ads is a bit too much, especially when the body has far more pressing matters at hand—for instance, patchy supervision over eateries.
While it is true that the Food Safety and Standards (Advertising and Claims) Regulations, 2018, require advertisers to get prior permission from FSSAI to show their product as a meal replacement—a Dominos ad can’t depict a pizza as a replacement for home-cooked food—the fact is that Indian regulation often misses the wood for the trees. Even as FSSAI goes after ads ‘disparaging’ ghiya-tori, there are allegations that it brought in experts funded by processed food companies to decide on disclosure standards for processed food companies. Advertisements from pan masala makers are allowed, but alcohol brands can’t market their products—in an Oz-like scenario, the latter market their products with proxy ads that feature music compilations to club soda. While marketing does impact consumer preferences—even WHO has spoken against false marketing—FSSAI can surely push healthier food without banning ads.