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How To Be a Wise Consumer? The prevention of Food Adulteration Act (PFA), FPO Fruits Product Order, Consumer Disputes and Redressed Forum (CDRF), Consumer Guidance Society of India (CGSI)

 
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Be a Wise Consumer

 

How many times have you felt cheated when you came from the market? How many times have you wished that you could make a complaint but did not know how and to whom?

Your answer probably would be, ‘Yes, many times.” Most of us consumers have been cheated some time or the other while making a purchase. Many of us wish that we had more knowledge that would help us become wiser consumers.

Do we go on in this state of ignorance? Certainly not. We can and need to educate ourselves on our rights and responsibilities as consumers. As consumers, we first need to be aware of all the different products available in the market. You probably know some or most of them. I today’s scenario, it may not be possible to know all the products that exits, but what is more important is to be aware of the products that could be useful to you. If you are a working mother, you may be interested in different ready-mixes or masalas that make your job easier. If you are at home, you would probably be interested in some other products. So keep your eyes an ears open, to increase your knowledge of the many choices available to you today.

Apart from the many products that exist, there are many brands for each type of category. Cooking oils, for instance. There are oils made from different sources like groundnut, sunflower and various other seeds. In each type, both the refined and filtered varieties are available.

You may ask yourself, “If there is so much to know, where do I start? What are the essentials that I need to know that would help me make better purchases?

All food manufacturers require a license.
The prevention of Food Adulteration Act (PFA) stipulates the information that is to be given on every food product that is above a certain minimum weight. This information could be used by you while making your purchases.

To start with, look out for the following details on the packaging.

   

The date of manufacture. This gives you an idea of when the product was manufactures and is of particular importance for ready-to eat and canned foods. In most cases, the month of manufacture is stated. For some products the date of packing may be given. The date of manufacture does not have to be printed on fast moving perishable goods like milk, butter and ice-cream.

Expiry date is another important piece of information
to consider when buying a food product. However, under the PFA Act, it is not mandatory for the manufacturer to print the expiry date on the packaging. This provision is currently under consideration and is, likely to be incorporated under the act in the near future.

Says S.J Mehta, Joint Commissioner Food, FDA Maharashra, “the PFA Act is being amended to include the printing of the expiry date on all food products.”

In Europe and America, the scenario is quite different. It is mandatory for all perishable commodities to have the date of expiry clearly visible on its label. Every one customarily checks that expiry date before buying any item, making rough calculations of the shelf life of he product. Neither the retauiler, nor the dealer there, would stock anything which has a current expiry date. In India, the expiry date rule only applies to pharmaceutical drugs. In all other commodities, the mention of it is not mandatory. This could e one of the major reasons why Indian food products are not popular in EEC markets. The risk of contamination and staleness is high. A few manufacturers, particularly multinationals, print ‘best before date’ on their products. This is another way of stating the expiry date.

You may have noticed that canned and bottled food products like jams, pickles, sauces and jellies have the letters FPO and a number printed on them. FPO stands for Fruits Product Order and is the act that governs the manufacture and packing of fruit products. Every licensed fruit product will have the FPO number printed on its label.

Another important factor for any food product is the ingredients used in it. Every packaged food product has to have an ingredient list on its label. The ingredients are mentioned in descending order of quantity. The ingredient list for a soup powder would be as follows – dehydrated vegetables, salt, corn flour, etc. This means that dehydrated vegetables are the largest item, by weight in the soup powder. The ingredient list is of particular importance to those who cannot eat certain foods like eggs, for example.

The PFA Act stipulates the type and quantity of flavours and colours that can be used in food products. The label of every food product must mention that it contains ‘permitted colours and flavours’. The FDA regularly checks products for the type and quantity of colours and flavours sued.

How do we know the quality of ingredients that go into the product?
We can only depend on the reputation of the manufactures. In most cases, it is preferable to buy a product of a known or reputed manufactures rather that that of an unknown one. The former is likely to have undertaken quality checks than his smaller counterpart. Price is another important parameter that we need to check when buying a food product, particularly a high value one,. Like oil. In today’s competitive scenario, prices may not differ too much between brands but we still need to make comparisons to satisfy ourselves.

The price of a product is stated as MRP (incl. of all taxes).
This is an all-inclusive price. A retailer can charge you a lower price but not more than the MRP that is printed on the product. The packaging act specifies the various sizes in which products can be packages and sold. Some manufactures charge a higher price by selling in a non-standard pack size. Any product that is of a different size needs to mention the unit price so that the consumer can make her own comparisons.

Packaging is another important element of a product. One of the important functions of packaging is to protect a product. Avoid buying or refuse to accept a products with a soiled or damaged packaging as the product it contains may have been pilfered or contaminated. You may choose to accept a product with damaged packaging only if you are sure that the product inside is unaffected by the damage to its packaging.

Having seen what we need to know as a consumer, we also need to know the procedure to be followed to make a complaint. Vanmana Manjure, a consumer rights activist and panelist of the Consumer Disputes and Redressed Forum (CDRF), an arbitrating body, elaborates on the procedure. “When a consumer is dissatisfied with a product, he should dispatch an acknowledgement due registered letter to the, marketing division of the concerned company. If the matter is very serious, the consumer can send the letter to the MDS of the company too. Send in details of your complaint, along with the mention of the shop from where you purchased the products, the details about the packaging and also what kind of compensation you are seeking.”

The penalties on the company will depend on the nature of the consumers complaint. If the consumer is seeking a replacement of the product or a money-back response, the company will have to comply. In case of money-back, the amount will be refunded along with 18 per cent interest.

If the company does not respond, the consumer will have to take his grievance to the Consumer Guidance Society of India (CGSI) or in Mumbai, to the Mumbai Grahak Panchayat. The CGSI is based in Mumbai and has branches in the following cities - Calicut, Goa, Hyderabad, Kottayam, Pune, Trichur and Udaipur. If the need arises you can contact their local office. These organizations will make a representation to the company concerned , on behalf of the consumer. If the company fails to respond, then through these bodies, the consumer can approach the CDRF which will hold a Consumer Court, summoning all parties involved and arbitrate on the issue. In the event of any complaint, all the costs of litigation have to be borne by the company. The consumer is not charged anything.”

Vijay Jathan, Hon Gen Secretary of the CGSI, calls the process “righting a wrong’. You as a consumer, have been wronged and now it has to be set right.”

Every consumer should be aware of his or her rights and responsibilities and should exercise them accordingly.
Next time you have a grievance, act immediately and refuse to be short changed. If the country requires an active consumer movement it will be effective only through vigilant consumers.

Contributed By : Maria Peres I have a Certificate of Competence from the Writers Bureau and have published articles in The Education Times and a couple of magazines for women. I have over 15 years of experience as a Marketing professional and have worked in the FMCG sector, in Market Research and in the Development sector in India.   peres_maria@yahoo.com

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