Vegan Law: India – Debate of Vegetarian v. Non-Vegetarian: Reclassification of Food

Debate of Vegetarian v. Non-Vegetarian: Reclassification of Food

By Lex Counsel Law Offices in India.

This is an area of law that India could take a global lead, in.

There are many great things about India and one of the greatest is their absolute mastery of vegetarian and vegan food.

The “western” world is playing catch up and we’d politely suggest this is an exciting new topic of law that is a global concern as  we all work out that our current consumption patterns are untenable

Food is an important expression of an individual’s choice, and this choice came under discussion in a recent order dated December 9, 2021 (“Order”) of the Hon’ble Delhi High Court in the case of Ram Gaua Raksha Dal vs Union of India & Ors.1 Allegations have been made for long that non-vegetarian ingredients are being used in preparation of vegetarian food items/snacks such as potato chips, noodles, jellies, candies etc. and non-disclosure of ingredients used can unknowingly interfere with personal food choices of individuals who prefer to be strictly vegetarian.


Questioning this lack of disclosure, the Petitioner, an association/a trust comprising of persons professing strict vegetarian lifestyle, preferred a petition before the Hon’ble Delhi High Court seeking directions for the following:

Ø    formulation of guidelines and policies for strict implementation of the existing rules for mandating manufacturers to label their products according to the nature of the ingredients used therein;

Ø    examination of the possibility of marking/labelling all consumable items on the basis of the ingredients as well as on the basis of the items used during the manufacturing processes;

Ø    setting up of an Expert Committee to examine the feasibility of labelling all items that are used by consumers, to be labelled as vegetarian and non-vegetarian products.

One of the contentions put forth by the Petitioner before the Court was that several products, including eatables, were either having non-vegetarian ingredients, or undergo processing in such a way that they could not be described as strictly vegetarian.

Court’s Order and Observations

The High Court concurred that “every person has a right to know – which springs from the right to freedom of speech under Article 19(1)(a), and the right to practice and profess his/ her beliefs – which springs from Article 25 of the Constitution of India. The issues raised by the petitioner also have a bearing on the persons’ right to life, recognized under Article 21 of the Constitution of India inasmuch, as, a person is entitled to make informed choices – which is also protected under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.”

The Court inter alia referred to the following definitions of “Non- Vegetarian Food” and “Vegetarian Food” of the Food Safety and Standards (Packaging and Labelling) Regulations, 2011 (“Regulations”):

Ø    “Non- Vegetarian Food” means “an article of food which contains whole or part of any animal including birds, fresh water or marine animals or eggs or products of any animal origin, but excluding milk or milk products, as an ingredient”;

Ø    “Vegetarian Food” means “any article of Food other than Non- Vegetarian Food as defined in regulation 1.2.1 (7)”.

Upon perusing the necessary provisions of the Regulations, the Court inter alia made the observation that the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 very clearly intends and expressly provides for declaration on all food items as either vegetarian or non-vegetarian.

By way of an example, the Court made reference to the ingredient ‘Disodium Inosinate’ (Code E631) used as a food additive and is commercially prepared from meat/fish. The Court noted that ‘Food Business Operators’ do not disclose that the food article is a non-vegetarian product even when the ingredient ‘Disodium Inosinate’ is used. Furthermore, it was also noted by the Court that only the codes of similar ingredients are disclosed without disclosure on the packaging as to its source, i.e., whether it is plant based, or animal based, or it is a chemically manufactured in a laboratory, and passed-off as vegetarian.


The Hon’ble Delhi High Court thereafter issued the following directions in its Order:

Ø    To the Central Government and the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India to ensure that there “should be full and complete disclosure of all the ingredients which go into the manufacture of any food article, not only by their code names but also by disclosing as to whether they originate from plant, or animal source, or whether they are manufactured in a laboratory, irrespective of their percentage in the food article”; and

Ø    To the Food Business Operators to ensure full and strict compliance of the Regulations which pertain to declaration of food articles as vegetarian or non-vegetarian, on the basis that the use of any ingredient, irrespective of measure or percentage, which are sourced from animals, would render the food article as non-vegetarian.



It is evident that Food Business Operators would now be required to re-assess their ingredients list as well as undertaken reclassification of their food articles basis the reassessment to ensure compliance with the Order. The Order may also have a far-reaching impact on the marketability and saleability of many popular products as reclassification of food articles (from vegetarian to non-vegetarian) will lead to loss of consumers who are strictly vegetarian. While the Order will increase compliance for the Food Business Operators, it will bring transparency and accountability for the consumers.

The case is presently pending before the Hon’ble Delhi High Court.


Endnotes: –

[1] W.P.(C) 12055/202