Give Parle its Bite back, HC tells food watchdog

In a relief to confectionery manufacturer Parle Biscuits Pvt Ltd, the Bombay High Court on Wednesday ordered the Food Safety and Standards (FSS) authority and the Food and Drug Administration to return Parle’s stock of seized products.

The authorities had confiscated batches of Parle products, Kaccha Mango Bite and Mazelo, for using lactic acid and excessive colour.

Representation picS

The confiscated products, in production since 2004 and 2008 respectively, came under the scanner for the first time for their use of lactic acid. Incidentally, though the acid is used in other confectioneries, both foreign and local, the authorities targeted only Parle.

The court only dealt with the challenge to the seizure of products containing excess acid, and their stock of lactic acid. It ordered Parle to pursue its alternate remedy under the FSS Act with regard to excessive colour.

Parle’s lawyers had argued that the FSS Act allowed the use of additives, and lactic acid was a permitted ingredient as a buffering agent. The appendix to the regulations framed under the act allow for ‘miscellaneous foods’ to be used as buffering agents, and that ‘lactic acid’ fell under this category, they contended. Moreover, the Bureau of Indian Standards also allowed the use of lactic acids while manufacturing foods.

The division bench comprising justices SJ Vazifdar and RY Ganoo noted, “The term ‘miscellaneous’ in the regulation is used without any restriction.. If the legislature considered lactic acid to be a harmful ingredient in sugar-boiled confectionery, it would have taken care to exclude it. We cannot presume an error on the part of the legislature.”

The bench, holding in favour of Parle, also observed, “It is indeed curious that the respondents have not taken any action against any of the other manufacturers over the years.”

The court rejected the arguments of the FSS and FDA commissioners, set aside the notices they had issued to Parle, and ordered the authorities to return Parle’s stock of lactic acid and confiscated batches of products. 

Notices to Parle
>> On July 11, 2012, the company received a notice from the food safety officer, stating that samples of its products, Kaccha Mango Bite and Mazelo, would be analysed under the provisions of the Food Safety and Standards Act.

>> On October 3, Parle received a letter stating that a sample had been declared unsafe and substandard as it contained more than the permitted level of colour and lactic acid, and asked the confectionery manufacturer to recall the entire stock. 

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