Plant-based dairy manufacturers in India will not have to delist products containing references to terms such as milk following a temporary court order.

Under a directive issued on 3 September by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), companies producing dairy-free food and beverages sold through retail and e-commerce channels were given 15 days’ notice to change labels or face action.

The FSSAI said businesses had “to suitably improve/modify their product labels and strictly comply with the relevant provisions of FSS (Food Products Standards and Food Additives) Regulation, 2011, before the Food Safety Departments take any enforcement action”.

The directive applied to plant-based food and beverages not based on milk or milk-derived ingredients. Such descriptions for dairy alternatives were to be “prohibited and any such action is in contravention of the said regulations”, the FSSAI said in the circular.

However, five companies contested the move through the Delhi High Court, according to Indian business publication The Economic Times, which named the firms as Hershey India, Rakyan Beverages, Istore Direct Trading, Drums Food International and Veganarke Enterprises.

The publication reported Judge Rekha Palli ‘issued notice on the petitions’ and sought a response from the FSSAI ahead of the next hearing on 25 October.

How well do you really know your competitors?

Access the most comprehensive Company Profiles on the market, powered by GlobalData. Save hours of research. Gain competitive edge.

Company Profile – free sample

Thank you!

Your download email will arrive shortly

Not ready to buy yet? Download a free sample

We are confident about the unique quality of our Company Profiles. However, we want you to make the most beneficial decision for your business, so we offer a free sample that you can download by submitting the below form

By GlobalData

A spokesperson for the FSSAI had previously confirmed to Just Food the directive applied to sales of dairy-free products sold through bricks-and-mortar retail outlets and online.

That statement read: “This covers everyone in the supply chain. For retail, our state food safety departments have been directed to take proper enforcement measures and identify defaulters. E-commerce players are specifically directed to delist such products as there is no strong mechanism to track such products.”

The Economic Times reported Judge Palli as saying in the court’s decision: “Till the next date, the impugned orders insofar as they direct coercive action will remain stayed.

“It is further clarified that … the e-commerce operators will only furnish the report to the competent authority and no action for de-listing will be taken till orders to the contrary are passed by the court.”

The FSSAI, which comes under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, acknowledged the court order in an official statement dated 20 September concerning food and beverage organisations (FBOs) in the plant-based category, retail and online.

“No coercive action on the basis of FSSAI orders … shall be taken against FBOs, ie. plant-based food manufacturers for using the word milk or other dairy terms in labels of plant-based beverages and products till next date of hearing.

“However, is it further clarified that investigations in such matters may be carried out as per the provisions of FSS Act 2005, and rules/regulations made thereunder while giving notice and opportunity to the FBO concerned, as per law.”

The authority added companies selling dairy-free products through e-commerce will have until 30 September to inform the FSSAI of those that contain the word milk or other dairy terms.

“However, such FBOs shall not be delisted from their platforms till further decisions/directions of the Hon’ble Court in the pending case,” the FSSAI said.

Despite the sensitivity of a matter up before the courts, Goodmylk, a dairy-free company in Bangalore making such products as plant-based milks, cheese and curd, and also known as Veganarke Enterprises, posted a comment on Twitter.

“The Court was pleased to direct that e-commerce websites are not to delist these products, & no other action by FSSAI can be taken without hearing us. We will continue to defend our products & ensure we will deliver our lactose-free dairy-free plant-based products to consumers,” Goodmylk tweeted.

Istore Direct Trading in Mumbai, which produces almond and oat-based milks among other dairy-free products under the Urban Platter brand, declined to comment when contacted by Just Food.

This publication has also reached out for comment to Hershey’s US office, Rakyan Beverages, a Mumbai-based firm also trading as Raw Pressery in almond milks and fresh juices, and Drums Food International, the owner of the Epigamia brand of plant-based yogurts and yogurt-based beverages, also in Mumbai.

No response had been received from those companies at the time of writing.

The initial directive from the FSSAI instructing the removal of dairy-free products from sale contained exceptions for coconut milk and peanut butter. The regulator pointed to the “internationally accepted principle that dairy terms were being traditionally used in their nomenclature and such products are not substitutes for milk or milk products”.

The FSSAI added: “The term curd is also not considered a dairy term exclusively for such products and has been associated with non-dairy products such as soybean curd in our regulations.”