A food court in Dhaka on Sunday issued arrest warrant against the chairman and the general manager of Glaxosmithkline Bangladesh and another person for cheating consumers through deceptive advertisements of Horlicks.
The arrest warrant came in response to a case in which Bangladesh Food Safety Authority accused the three of violating safe food act on four counts, including illegal labeling and advertising.
The court fixed October 2 for the police to produce the accused —GSK chairman M Azizul Haque, its GM Prakash Pandey and Azim Uddin Ahmed, chairman of Mutual Food Products Limited, the company responsible for processing and packaging of Horlicks in Bangladesh.
‘For increasing sales, the accused adopted a host of heinous tactics,’ said safe food inspector Kamrul Hasan after filing the case.
‘But the fact is that the quality of Horlicks was not even certified by Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution,’ he added.
In the case statement, Kamrul said, the label of Horlicks Classic Malt, one of the several varieties of Horlicks, contains words like ‘taller’, ‘stronger’ and ‘sharper’ next to the brand name, which may give rise to the idea among consumers that they needed to rely on the product for gaining the qualities.
Kamrul said that the label further confirmed that their claim was proven ‘clinically’.
‘There is enough reason to doubt the claim,’ said Kamrul.
‘No country in the world accepted the claim,’ he added.
On the label of Horlicks Classic Malt, Kamrul said, five signs of healthy growth are talked about — ‘bone circumference’, ‘strong muscle’, ‘heightened concentration’, ‘healthy blood’ and ‘gaining weight rightly’ — which are confusing and misleading.
The label also listed numerous health benefits of drinking Horlicks, including strengthening of bones and muscle, development of brain, improving metabolism and ‘blood health’ necessary for a strong immune system.
Kamrul said that the label even claimed that children might not get necessary nutrition from regular food and their nutrition demand could be met by drinking Horlicks daily.
‘This is not medicine and a food item cannot ensure so many health benefits alone,’ observed Kamrul.
He said that the safe food law strongly prohibited such advertising.
The label of Mother’s Horlicks was even more misleading and confusing, said Kamrul.
‘It says it helps baby grow in mother’s womb,’ Kamrul cites.
Beside labels, the GSK was seen making similar claims in adverts meant for television consumers and Facebook users.
Kamrul said that GSK was cheating people by bringing to market a variety of Horlicks products, targeting different groups of consumers like women, children and mothers.
Kamrul also prayed to the court for directing BSTI to determine the quality of Horlicks products being sold in market.
In 2008, Advertising Standards Authority in the UK banned a Horlicks advert mistakenly broadcast on Ntv Europe, airing programme for Bangladeshi community there, for making false promises like making children ‘taller’, ‘stronger’ and ‘sharper.
The verified Facebook page of Horlicks Bangladesh show mothers continuously interacting with its updates, mostly being similar advertisements, sharing their desire to feed Horlicks to their kids, often aged about three.
If the allegations are proved, the accused will face seven years’ imprisonment or Tk 28 lakh in fines or both.
Replying to a mail requesting comment regarding the allegations, GSK said, ‘We have not received any notice on the mentioned issue from Bangladesh Food Safety Authority; hence are unable to comment on it now’.
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