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April 24, 2024

Supreme Court Widens Probe to FMCG Sector After Patanjali Misleading Ads Case

In the wake of the Patanjali misleading ads case, the Supreme Court has extended its scrutiny to encompass the practices of Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) companies, citing concerns over deceptive advertising practices detrimental to public health. Justices Hima Kohli and Ahsanuddin Amanullah, constituting the bench, emphasized the need to investigate not only Patanjali but all FMCG companies engaging in misleading advertisements, particularly those affecting vulnerable groups such as babies, school children, and senior citizens.

The apex court has called for an evaluation of 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. Moreover, it has sought clarification from three Union ministries regarding their actions to combat deceptive advertising practices since 2018.

The scrutiny extends to Patanjali Ayurved’s public apology notice, with the court questioning the adequacy of the apology’s size published in 67 newspapers compared to the company’s typical full-page advertisements for its ayurvedic products. Patanjali has been directed to present the original apology published in newspapers within two days to verify its size.

However, the court clarified that its intention is not to target specific entities but to uphold public interest and ensure transparency in 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.

The court has also directed attention to 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, prompting further clarification from the Centre.

In response to allegations from the Indian Medical Association (IMA) regarding misinformation spread by Patanjali about allopathic medicines, the court urged the IMA to address its internal issues and criticized its members for unethical practices. The National Medical Commission has been directed to participate in the proceedings.

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

This scrutiny by the Supreme Court comes at a time when several well-known companies are under investigation for the quality of their products. Nestlé, for instance, has faced scrutiny over allegations of adding more sugar to baby food sold in lower- and middle-income countries compared to its European counterparts. Similarly, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has issued quality checks on popular spice brands MDH and Everest after traces of ethylene oxide were found above permissible levels in some products.

Furthermore, products like Bournvita have also come under public scrutiny for being advertised as “healthy” despite containing large amounts of sugar, sparking debates online and among medical professionals.

The widening probe by the Supreme Court indicates a concerted effort to ensure consumer protection and combat deceptive advertising practices across various sectors, underscoring the importance of transparency and accountability in the FMCG industry.

Jhumpa Lahiri

Jhumpa Lahiri

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