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Supreme Court expands scrutiny to FMCG after Patanjali misleading ads case

Nestle, Bournvita, and MDH have all come under public scrutiny after reports questioning the quality of the consumer goods emerged within the last month


Vasudha Mukherjee New Delhi

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Following its examination of Patanjali, the Supreme Court on Tuesday broadened its scrutiny to include misleading advertisements by Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) companies. It also requested three Union ministries to detail the actions taken to combat deceptive advertising practices, which negatively impact public lives.

Justice Hima Kohli and Justice Ahsanuddin Amanullah, forming the bench, emphasised the importance of investigating not only Patanjali but all FMCG companies engaging in misleading advertisements that harm public health, particularly affecting vulnerable groups such as babies, school children, and senior citizens.

The court stressed the need to evaluate the implementation of relevant provisions under various acts and rules, including the Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act, the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, and the Consumer Protection Act.

The apex court also scrutinised Patanjali Ayurved's public apology notice, questioning whether the size of the apology published in 67 newspapers matched the scale of its typical full-page advertisements for its ayurvedic products. Patanjali was instructed to present the "original" apology published in newspapers within two days to verify the advertisement's size.

The bench clarified that its intention was not to target specific entities but to uphold public interest and ensure transparency regarding consumer protection measures. It called upon the Union ministries of Consumer Affairs, Information and Broadcasting, and Information Technology to submit affidavits detailing their actions to prevent the misuse of consumer laws from 2018.

Additionally, the court sought clarification from the Centre regarding a letter issued by the Ministry of Ayush in August 2023, instructing licensing authorities and drug controllers to refrain from taking action under Rule 170 of the Drugs and Cosmetics Rules, 1945.

In response to allegations from the Indian Medical Association (IMA) regarding misinformation spread by Patanjali about allopathic medicines, the bench urged the IMA to address its internal issues and criticised its members for unethical practices and endorsing costly and unnecessary treatments. The National Medical Commission was also directed to participate in the proceedings.

Moreover, the court instructed Yoga guru Ramdev and Patanjali Managing Director Acharya Balkrishna to issue additional advertisements expressing regret and scheduled further hearings for April 30.

On Monday, Patanjali published apologies in certain newspapers, admitting to errors in their advertisements despite previous refusals by the Supreme Court to accept their apologies in the contempt case related to misleading advertisements.
This scrutiny comes at a time when many well-known companies are under investigation for the quality of their products.

Recently, a report by Public Eye and the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN), based on data from the market analysis company Euromonitor, revealed that Nestlé added more sugar to baby food sold in lower- and middle-income countries, such as in Asian and African countries, compared to its European counterparts. The report included two of Nestlé's best-selling products, Cerelac instant cereal and Nido powdered milk.

On Monday, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) issued quality checks on popular spice brands MDH and Everest after Hong Kong and Singapore found two products containing traces of ethylene oxide above permissible levels.

Meanwhile, products such as Bournvita have also come under public scrutiny for being advertised as "healthy" despite containing large amounts of sugar. This has sparked widespread debate online and among medical professionals regarding FMCG advertising.

(With agency inputs)

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First Published: Apr 24 2024 | 10:19 AM IST

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