Creative advertising by McDonald’s has landed it in trouble. The apex food regulator Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) on Friday issued show cause notices to McDonald’s for contravening the provisions of Food Safety and Standards (Advertising and Claims) Regulations, 2018.
Taking cognizance of a full page advertisement by McDonald's in New Delhi and Mumbai newspapers that said “Stuck with Ghiya-Tori Again? Make the 1+1 Combo you love", the central licensing authority and FSSAI’s designated officer at New Delhi and Mumbai issued the notices saying as to why further action should not be initiated against McDonald's for this.
“The food companies must desist from issuing advertisements/publicity materials which are in violation of Food Safety & Standards Act, 2006 and rules/regulations made there under. The FSSAI is committed to ensure the availability of safe and wholesome food for all citizens of the country through various means like education, awareness building and regulatory enforcement and to achieve these goals the Eat Right campaign is going on across the country," said Pawan Agarwal, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) FSSAI.
Stating that advertising and marketing plays a key role in people making food choices, particularly children, FSSAI is actively taking note of the “irresponsible" advertising by some food companies to promote sales of their own foods often considered unhealthy as substitute for healthy foods.
“Tendency of the food companies to disparage freshly cooked food and vegetables that are healthier is a matter of grave concern. Such advertisements are against national efforts for promoting healthier and right eating habits, especially in the children from a young age, with the aim to ensure safe and wholesome food for them so that the kids feel better, grow better and learn better," FSSAI said in an official statement.
The World Health Organization (WHO) in its resolution on marketing of food and non-alcoholic beverages to children has asked the member-states to reduce the impact on children of marketing of foods high in saturated fats, trans-fatty acids, free sugars, or salt.
It also recommends that given the effectiveness of marketing is a function of exposure and power, the overall policy objective should be to reduce both the exposure of children to, and power of, marketing of foods high in saturated fats, trans-fatty acids, free sugars, or salt.
Aligned with the WHO advice, FSSAI has recently finalized the ‘Food Safety and Standards (Advertising and Claims) Regulations, 2018’. Under these regulations, the advertisements should not undermine the importance of healthy lifestyles, and also shall not promote or portray their food and beverages as a meal replacement unless otherwise specifically permitted by FSSAI.
Further, no advertisements or claims for articles of foods shall be made by any food business operator that undermines the products of any other manufacturer for the purpose of promoting their products or influencing consumer behavior, according to the food regulator.
Violation of these regulations attracts a penalty up to ₹10 lakh under Section (53) of Food Safety & Standards Act, 2006. FSSAI is also in the process of finalizing regulations to ensure safe and wholesome food for school children.
“A key proposal in the regulations is that foods that are high in fat, salt and sugar cannot be sold to school children in school canteens/mess premises/ hostel kitchens or within 50 meters of the school campus. Unhealthy diets are a key risk factor in childhood obesity that is rising rapidly," FSSAI statement said.
“Diets that have excess of salt and sugar not only harm the body but also the cognitive capabilities of the children. Therefore, at the heart of the proposed regulations is a fundamental idea to make it clear what is healthy for children and what is not and promote healthy eating habits amongst the children. These regulations are in draft stage under consultation," it said.
According to FSSAI, products deemed "less healthy" are now required to display labels grading their nutritional and sugar content, with those considered to be most unhealthy banned from appearing in ads across all media platforms, including broadcast, print and online channels. This aims to reduce the influence of such advertisements on consumer preferences, the food regulator said.
“Hardcastle Restaurants Private Limited (HRPL) operates McDonald's restaurants in West and South India and the print ad in question was not issued by us. We have already written to the FSSAI clarifying the same," said a spokesperson in response to Mint's query.
*Saumya Tewari contributed to the story.