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Principal field of vision – Front of pack labelling
Tuesday, 06 April, 2021, 15 : 00 PM [IST]
Neha Singh
The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India -FSSAI has recently introduced Food Safety and Standards Labelling and Display Regulations, 2020  labelling and display regulations) to prescribe the labelling requirements of pre-packaged foods and display of essential information on premises where food is manufactured, processed, served and stored. Under the labelling and display regulations, an expression ‘front of pack’ has been introduced for the purpose of mentioning few very important information on particular place of the package of the food. On first look, the use of the expression appears out of sync under the labelling and display regulations. Through this article the author seeks to highlight the incongruity  surrounding the use of this expression.

The field of labelling and display of packaged food was earlier occupied by the Food Safety and Standard packaging and labelling Regulations, 2011 which has now been put in two parts; namely; the Food Safety and Standards labelling and display Regulations, 2020 and the Food Safety and Standards Packaging Regulations, 2018. The food business operators are supposed to comply to the labelling and display regulations by January 1, 2022.
Under the newly introduced labelling and display regulation, FSSAI has introduced various new concepts and has tried to give more clarity on various issues which earlier went into litigation. One of the significant changes is introduction of the expression ‘front of pack’ which has been defined to mean ‘part of the package that faces forward in the principal field of vision and is typically the first thing a consumer will see when they look at the product'.

The expression is relevant because following information needs to be given on the ‘front of pack’
  •  Name of the food [Regulation 5 (1)]
  •  Declaration regarding Veg/Non-Veg [Regulation 5 (4)(d)]
  •  package containing an admixture of edible oils shall carry Name and nature immediately below the brand name and trade name on ‘Front of pack’ [Schedule II].
The definition of the expression ‘front of pack’ read with aforementioned provisions suggests that these information are very important in nature and it should be put on the package in a way that it catches eyes of a consumer at first glance. Though, it appears straight forward; however, there can be some doubt about the meaning of the expression ‘in the principal field of vision'. This expression is neither defined under the labelling and display regulations nor used anywhere else in the regulations. In fact, use of the expressions ‘front of pack' and ‘principal field of vision’ is surprising because rest of the labelling requirements are mentioned vis-à-vis ‘principal display panel’. Having noticed such incongruity, the author tried tracing the similar use of this expression in other jurisdictions.

The expression ‘principal field of vision’ has been used in EU Food Regulations (N°1169/2011).

‘Principal field of vision’ has been defined under Chapter 2 (General Provisions) Article 2 (definitions) 2(l) of the EU Regulation in following manner : -

‘Principal field of vision’ means the field of vision of a package which is most likely to be seen at first glance by the consumer at the time of purchase and that enables the consumer to immediately identify a product in terms of its character or nature and, if applicable, its brand name. If a package has several identical principal fields of vision, the principal field of vision is the one chosen by the food business operator.

The perusal of the aforementioned definition shows that ‘principal field of vision' is a wider expression and ‘front of pack’ would be a part of it; whereas, under the labelling and display regulations it appears just the opposite – at least, in the way it is worded. This is likely to give rise to legal disputes in various factual circumstances. Further, the definition of the expression ‘principal field of vision' suggests that it is possible that a package has several identical principal fields of vision. In such scenario, food business operator has the liberty to choose the principal field of vision and then accordingly put the relevant information. Upon comparison, one can possibly argue that such option is not available under labelling and display regulations because it seems such option has been restricted by use of the expression ‘part of the package that faces forward'.
In the light of aforementioned discussion and the fact that these expressions were missing under the draft labelling and display regulations, the author is of the view that the FSSAI has tried to fit in these new concepts/expression without requisite research and attempt to harmonize different parts of the regulations. And, this is likely to give rise to various legal issues in future.
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