The Food Safety and Standards Bill, 2005 has termed 'nutraceuticals' a special category of 'food' and suggested that special rules need to be laid down for its sale in India. But the bill has just been tabled in Parliament; meanwhile, in the current prevention of food adulteration act, 1954 or the Drug and Cosmetic Act, 1940, there is no clear definition for such products (see 'The inside story', Down To Earth, February 15, 2005).
Such a lacuna leads precisely to what happened after Marico Ltd recently launched its new product, Saffola Cholesterol Control (scc), in Mumbai. The company claims ssc lowers blood cholesterol by about 15 per cent; its launch press release claims it is "100 per cent natural and enriched with the goodness of oats, barley, soy and fibre...important for controlling cholesterol.... Consumption of Saffola Cholesterol Control is definitely a viable option to control cholesterol. The product does not change the taste of home cooked rotis in any way. It can also be added to other atta (flour) preparations...".
Then controversy erupted. Marico Ltd had not taken the Drug Controller General of India's (dgci) permission for their product. M Venkateswarulu, deputy drug controller general (west zone) pointed out if scc is capable of reducing blood cholesterol levels, as claimed, then it should be classified as a "drug" having therapeutic values, and so require clearance under dca. M Rameshkumar, commissioner, Food and Drug Administration, Maharashtra, is looking into the controversy. He says, "We have informed Marico about our objections towards the labelling of their product which boldly says Cholesterol Control. A food product cannot make such claims. Marico has agreed to change the labelling, and taken the product off the market. If the company fails to make suitable changes we will issue it a show cause notice."
Clearly, lack of legislation is helping companies make millions, while consumers are duped into buying so-called 'wonder food supplements'.