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Court rejects industry plea meant to stall guidelines on junk food sale in schools

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Date:Oct 31, 2013

Food industry had contended that no attempt should be made to create a category called junk food when the food safety law does not define it as such

The Delhi High Court which is hearing a petition to ban junk food in city schools has declined to modify its order on formulation of guidelines on junk food for school children under the Food Safety and Standards (FSS) Act of 2006. The food industry, represented by Retailers Association of India, National Restaurants Association of India and All India Food Processors Association, had appealed to the court, seeking modification to the court's order dated September 29 this year. The court, however, found no merit in their contention that junk food is not defined as such by the food safety law and that attempts should not be made to carve out a special category called junk food.

The applicants had also challenged the appropriateness of the Central Advisory Committee (CAC)  of the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India to oversee the formulation of these guidelines.

Referring to the original public interest petition and observations in the earlier order on the legislative intent of regulating processed food so that it does not adversely impact public health, the court dismissed the first contention of the applicants  that junk food is not defined in FSS Act and that attempts are being made to carve out  a special category called junk food by the court. The court clarified that it only made a reference to a “species of food wherein food is a genus”. The bench said its decision in the earlier order does not create any exception to the definition of food under the Act.

The second modification sought by the applicants was directions to put the formulation of guidelines under the supervision of a scientific panel or scientific committee of FSSAI instead of CAC set up by the ministry. The court rejected this contention as well and observed that the public interest petition was not about hazardous food or standard of food safety envisaged in FSS Act. The concern is about dietary habits and promotion of what is popularly known as “junk food” and any committee could have been directed by the Court to render the opinion, the bench said.

The public interest petition was filed in 2010 by Uday Foundation, a Delhi-based NGO.  It sought directions to ban junk food and carbonated drinks in the schools and its sale within 500 yards of the institutions. It also seeks ban on junk food advertisements targeted at children.

The court made one concession. It gave permission for including two members of the Retailers Association of India in the existing expert group under the CAC that is to submit the guidelines before the next hearing in December, 2013.

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