Biscuit-maker Parle Products Pvt Ltd has been forced to make changes in the packs of its pineapple and orange cream biscuits after the Maharashtra Food and Drug Administration (FDA) trained its guns on it. In February, the FDA had asked the company to withdraw its stocks of these cream biscuits as it charged that the company was misleading consumers. While stocks of these products have already been withdrawn in key cities of Maharashtra such as Pune, Nashik and Mumbai, the company made changes to the packaging recently to make sure its business remained unaffected.
The matter is sub judice now as a result of a petition filed in the Bombay High Court by Parle after the State Food Inspector confiscated 50 tonnes of Parle pineapple and orange cream biscuits in February. The move was the result of a claim made by the FDA that the packaging of the flavoured cream biscuits depicted pineapples and oranges though there was no real fruit in the biscuits.
Officials at Parle Products said, "We have changed the packaging for the products since the FDA felt that we were misleading illiterate consumers by printing pictures of the fruits and not the biscuits."
According to the company officials, "Parle cream biscuit packs should not be a case of confiscation when it is a known fact that similar standard international trade practice norms are admissible under the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act. Globally, cream biscuits and confectionery have been using pictures of fruits on the packs to denote the kind of flavour that the product has. The labels clearly mention that the product consists of `flavoured' cream in the case of biscuits. It is in this respect that the confiscated Parle cream packs were merely following established international norms."
A related issue is that of the privileges enjoyed by import brands vis-à-vis local ones, say Parle officials. Foreign biscuit brands do show actual fruits on the pack to connote flavour and are available on the same shelf as the local brands. Also, while there are weight norms for Indian brands, imported brands do not follow such norms. However, Indian export packs have to conform to the packaging standards of that market.
The FDA had seized Parle biscuits underRule No. 37 of The Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1955 and has called it a case of misbranding. Parle Products, however, says the action taken by the FDA is unjustified and claims that the obligation of a food inspector in terms of seizure of edible goods is possible only if they appear adulterated or misbranded. In the case of the Parle biscuits, they were not adulterated and were completely fit for human consumption, says the company.