Under the erstwhile PFA Rules, 1955 a rule was introduced, namely ‘Proprietary food’ means a food, which has not been standardized under the PFA Rules, 1955. The words ‘proprietary food’ are akin to a relationship between an adjective and a noun. The words ‘proprietary’ and ‘standardized’ are adjectives describing the noun ‘food’; just as bitter chocolate or sweetened orange juice. It simply means you can make your own (proprietary) cake and eat it too, without following the ‘standardized recipe’ provided by law. So long the cake is safe to eat – and the label says, “It’s a cake”. But, simple freedoms in a permit ruled system might not survive for long.
In 2006, the Act provided another meaning; “proprietary and novel food it said; means an article of food for which standards have not been specified but is not unsafe”. The words “but is not unsafe” essentially reflects a long held prejudice against foods existing outside a permit ruled system. This spurred the product approval regime, ostensibly projected as a safety assessment when most of the foods where existing for more than 20-30 years or made with simple ingredients such as oats. Though struck down by the Supreme Court in 2015, the unbending pursuit for control of these foods prevails.
In 2016, a new regulation, further changed the meaning: “Proprietary food means an article of food that has not been standardized under these regulations, but does not include novel foods, foods for special dietary uses, foods for special medical purposes, functional foods, nutraceuticals, health supplements and such other food articles which the Central Government may notify in this behalf”. Would ingredients permitted for use in nutraceuticals be allowed in general foods?
Food businesses like to have certainty. An ever evolving definition of proprietary food from its original meaning of a food that “has not been standardized”, to added confusions of ” but is not unsafe”, “but does not include “ certain standardized foods and finally extended to “ such other foods which may be notified”, is going from somewhere to nowhere in building ease of doing business. Definitions in food regulations should be matters of settled certainty.
The ever-changing meaning is reminiscent of an interesting conversation Alice in Wonderland had with Humpty Dumpty. “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more or less”. “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things”. The question is, “said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – that’s all”.