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Nestlé India faces charge for alleged infant formula labelling law violations

By Ben Bouckley , 19-Mar-2012
Last updated the 20-Mar-2012 at 09:01 GMT

Vintage Nestle Lactogen advert from Singapore, Photo Copyright: Chinnian/Flickr
Vintage Nestle Lactogen advert from Singapore, Photo Copyright: Chinnian/Flickr

Nestlé India has been charged by a court in Delhi for allegedly violating laws relating to the correct labeling of infant formula products and for associated failings regarding advertisements in women’s magazines, claims that the company denies.

The claims relate to a complaint filed 17 years ago by Dr. Arun Gupta, representing the Association for Consumers Action on Safety and Health (ACASH), a movement that advocates breastfeeding and champions infant feeding, health and nutrition issues.

Gupta claimed that Nestlé had violated various provisions of the ‘Infant Milk Substitutes Feeding Bottle, and Infant Foods (Regulation of Production, Supply and Distribution) Act 1992’, and he told DairyReporter.com today that a lower court trial date was set for late July, after Nestle pleaded 'not guilty' and claimed trial.

Namely, in relation to claims that, as of October 1994 or earlier (according to the charge notice signed Bhupinder Singh, metropolitan magistrate, Rohini Courts, Delhi) that via its sales manager at the time, Nestle India violated the provisions of this act by printing the notice ‘Breast milk is best for your baby’ on packaging, rather than ‘Mother’s milk is best for your baby’.

Alleged labeling omissions

Nestlé also omitted to print the “important notice” in Hindi Devnagari script, the charge notice alleged, and failed to print the information/warning that 'Infant milk substitute or infant food is not the sole source of nourishment of an infant' on Lactogen containers.

The firm also printed ‘Breast Milk’ instead of ‘Mother’s Milk’ on containers, the charge notice read, while an important notice on the Hindi version was also printed in a smaller font size than the prescribed 5mm on Celerac containers.

According to the charge notice, one further failing was that mandatory information required by law was not provided in advertisements carried by Indian women’s magazines such as Greh Shobba, Sarita, Women’s Era, Parenting and Meri Saheli.

Dr. Gupta said that the Parliament of India had legislated to regulate the production, distribution and supply of infant milk substitutes, feeding bottles and infant foods to protect and promote breastfeeding and ensure proper use of infant foods.

He told DairyReporter.com that he believed Nestle India had used various delaying tactics through the courts over the past 17 years to stop charges being brought, while one court even lost evidence submitted in 2002/3, which further delayed the process.

Nestlé rejects delay claims

Asked if he thought Nestlé's alleged infringements, and the 'breast milk', 'mother's milk' difference was really that serious, Gupta told this publication: "To follow the letter of the law in India, it says 'mother's milk' - and connotations of mother versus breast are different. Parliament wanted to give the emphasis to mother's milk when it legislated. Two years after the law came in, the company was not doing this. This was just one of the violations." 

A Nestlé spokesman told DairyReporter.com: “Nestlé is committed to compliance with the applicable laws and regulations in every market it operates in.  In this case the legal complaint refers to a brief period more than a decade and a half ago in India, when the statutory declarations required on the labels of baby foods were inconsistent under two different Acts of Parliament.  We followed the clarification on the subject issued by the Indian government.

The spokesman added: "The court has decided that the legal complaint against Nestlé India can proceed, but this does not mean the allegations by the complainant are correct.  We maintain that we have complied with the regulations in this area and we reiterate that we are fully committed to compliance with the relevant legislation. 

"We also reject the suggestion that we have delayed proceedings in this case.”

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