Plea Before Supreme Court Seeks Compulsory Labelling On Fortified Rice Sacks For The Benefit Of Those Contraindicated To Consume It

By Sohini Chowdhury

A petition has been filed before the Supreme Court, inter alia, seeking compliance of Clause 7(4) of the Food Safety Safety and Standards (Fortification of Foods) Regulations, 2018 to carry out mandated labelling on fortified rice sacks for the benefit of those (including sickle cell disease and thalassemia patients) who are contraindicated to consume the same.

When the matter was taken up, on Friday, at the threshold a Bench comprising Justice S.K. Kaul and Justice A.S. Oka enquired if the petitioner had approached the concerned authorities flagging the issue that relevant regulations are not being followed.
Advocate, Mr. Prashant Bhushan, appearing on behalf of the petitioner, responded in the affirmative.
The Bench asked Mr. Bhushan to place the representations on record. “Let the representations be placed on record. List next Monday.”

Justice Kaul indicated that the correct way of approaching the issue would be that the Court directs the authorities to consider and respond to the petitioner’s representations. He reckoned that, given the fact the issue raised in the petition demands specialised knowledge, the determination of of the representation by the concerned authority would benefit the Bench as and when it considers the petition.

Food fortification refers to the addition of chemical or synthetic vitamins and minerals, during processing, in the post-harvest stage. The petition submits that there is scientific evidence to demonstrate that for people suffering from certain medical conditions iron-fortified rice is contra-indicated. Under the Food Safety and Standards (Fortification of Foods) Regulations, 2018, the concerned authorities are enjoined to provide correct labelling for contra-indications.
The petition argues that rice-fortification programmes ought to abide by the principle of right to informed consent, which is an integral part of right to privacy envisaged in Article 21 of the Constitution of India. World Health Organisation also emphasises on the duty of the authorities to inform individuals about such fortification. The plea further submits that an individual’s bodily integrity cannot be impinged upon without their explicit informed consent.
It appears that according to fact-finding visits conducted by a couple of organisations the labelling requirements under the Food Safety and Standard Regulations and the Operational Guidelines of the Pilot Scheme Fortification of Rice and its Distribution under Public Distribution were not being followed.
Another concern raised in the petition is that, there is no alternative to fortified-rice in the public distribution programs of PDS (Public Distribution System), ICDS (Integrated Child Development Services) and MDMs (Mid Day Meals) for people who are contraindicated to consume fortified rice. It submits that statutory rights of the beneficiaries would be infringed upon if they are constrained to opt out of these programmes for not being able to consume fortified rice. [Case Titl: Vandana Prasad And Anr. v UoI And Ors. WP(C) No. 24/2023]
This article has been republished from Live