The Indian government has announced that it will set up a committee to scrutinise and regulate product-feature claims made in advertisements, through the Food Safety & Standards Authority of India (FSSAI).

The committee will comprise internal and external experts, consisting of members from the advertising and food and regulatory space, which will be screening advertisements across television, digital and print mediums. The objective of the screening process will be to check the credibility of claims by companies, according to sources speaking to CNBC.

These include, for example, evaluating nutrition, dietary and non-addition claims. Non-addition claims refer to disclaimers such as sugar and fat content on products. The committee will also check on the usage of terms like ‘natural’, ‘pure’ and ‘fresh’ in advertisements. This will ensure the consistency of information on labels versus claims in advertisements, the sources explained.

The parameters are based on the recent ‘Food Safety and Standards (Advertising and Claims) Regulations, 2018’ which came into effect in July 2019. The regulations state that any violation could attract a penalty of up to Rs 10 lakh (US$13,944).

“The committee will scrutinise advertising claims, examine complaints, and subsequently take appropriate action,” FSSAI chief executive Pawan Agarwal told the Economic Times. “A lot of businesses thrive on inducing fear in the public mind, which is incorrect.”

The move follows a recent show cause notice served by the FSSAI on McDonald's for disparaging freshly cooked food and vegetables in its advertisements to promote fast food. The QSR brand had carried advertisements in newspapers stating "Stuck with Ghiya-Tori Again? Make the 1+1 Combo you love".

India’s advertising market is currently regulated and controlled by a non-statutory body, the Advertising Standards Council of India, and looks into ads based on complaints by public. However, there is no central statutory authority.

To date, ASCI has investigated nearly 564 complaints related to advertisements that are misleading and ambiguous in nature. Of them, 179 were promptly withdrawn from print, TV and social media while complaints against 344 were upheld.

Sourced from Economic Times, CNBC, New Pioneer; additional content by WARC staff