INDIA – The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), has directed state food safety departments to look into and identify specific instances of violation by ecommerce platforms, claiming their plant-based products as ‘milk’.

The new rule could impact new-age brands and direct-to-consumer (D2C) dairy alternatives such as Raw Pressery, Epigamia, Urban Platter and Goodmylk, as well as Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) majors such as Sofit (Hershey’s) and Amul.

FSSAI ordered the businesses to delist such products from the platform and ensure that no such defaulting products listed on the online platforms are allowed for sale in the future as well.

At present products such as oat milk, rice milk, walnut milk, flax milk, soy milk and others claim to be an alternative to cow/buffalo milk.

The ruling applies to e-commerce platforms such as Amazon India, Flipkart, BigBasket, Grofers, among others.

According to the FSSAI, it had received a complaint from the National Cooperative Dairy Federation of India (NCDFI) in March, against plant-based food manufacturers, for using the word ‘milk’ and other dairy terms in labels of plant-based beverages and products. The complaint also mentioned specific instances of alleged violations of the use of dairy terminology for non-dairy or plant-based products.

NCDFI has also filed a petition in the Delhi High Court against the use of dairy terminology by non-dairy food businesses. And the High Court has sought responses from the Union Government on this subject.

Meanwhile, the FSSAI order added that it should be ensured that no such defaulting products whose label is in contravention to the ibid provisions regulating the application of the dairy terms are listed on online platforms for sale in future also.

The food regulator said that if any ecommerce entity is found guilty during the investigation, it would be given 15 days to improve or modify product labels and comply with the relevant provisions of Food Safety and Standards, Food Products Standards and Food Additives, Regulations, 2011.

As per these Regulations, use of any dairy term for a product which is not milk, milk product or a composite milk product e.g. plant-based products /beverages, is prohibited and any such action is in contravention of the said regulations.

FSSAI said that the term ‘curd’ cannot not be considered a dairy term exclusively as it also includes non-dairy products such as soybean curd.

Exceptions to this rule are coconut milk, peanut butter etc., based on the internationally accepted principle that dairy terms were being traditionally used in their nomenclature and such products are not substitutes for milk or milk products.

Impact on dairy alternative startups

While the said notice might not be a major cause of concern for ecommerce platforms which rely on consumer electronics and garments to drive their sales, it needs to be seen how plant-based or dairy alternative startups will react as they depend mostly on these ecommerce platforms to sell their products.

According to Inc42, if ecommerce platforms delist these startups’ products from the ‘dairy’ segment and put them under a newly created ‘non-dairy’ category then it might hamper products’ discovery, thus dropping in total number of sales.

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