What is the meaning of Foodstuff
Much learned judicial thought has been expended upon this problem-what is and what is not food and what is and what is not a foodstuff; and the only conclusion I can draw from a careful consideration of all the available material is that the term “foodstuff” is ambiguous. In one sense it has a narrow MEANING and is limited to articles which are eaten as food for purposes of nutrition and nourishment and so would exclude condiments and spices such as yeast, salt, pepper, baking powder and turmeric. In a wider sense, it includes everything that goes into the preparation of food proper (as understood in the narrow sense) to make it more palatable and digestible. In my opinion, the problem posed cannot be answered in the abstract and must be viewed in relation to its background and context. But before I dilate on this, I will examine the dictionary MEANING of the words.
11. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “foodstuff” as follows: “that which is taken into the system to maintain life and growth and to supply waste of tissue”. In Webster’s International Dictionary “food”, is defined as – “nutritive material absorbed or taken into the body of an organism which server for purposes of growth, work or repair and for the maintenance of the vital processes.”
Then follows this explanation:
“Animals differ greatly from plants in their nutritive processes and require in addition to certain organic substances (water, salts etc.) and organic substances of unknown composition (vitamins) not ‘ordinarily’ classed as foods (‘though absolutely indispensable to life’ and contained in greater or less quantities in the substances eaten) complex organic substances which fall into three principal groups, Proteins, Carbohydrates and Fats.”
Next is given a special definition for legal purposes, namely –
“As used in laws prohibiting adulteration etc., ‘food’ is generally held to mean any article used as food or drink by man, whether simple, mixed or compound, including adjuncts such as condiments etc., and often excluding drugs and natural water.”
12. The definition given of “foodstuff” is –
“1. Anything used as food.
2. Any substance of good value as protein, fat etc., entering into the composition of a food.”
13. It will be seen from these definitions that “foodstuff” has no special MEANING of its own. It merely carries us back to the definition of “food” because “foodstuff” is anything which is used as “food.”
14. So far as “food” is concerned, it can be used in a wide as well as a narrow sense and, in my opinion, much must depend upon the context and background. Even in a popular sense, when one asks another. “Have you had your food?” one means the composite preparations which normally go to constitute a meal – curry and rice, sweetmeats, pudding cooked vegetables and so forth. One does not usually think separately of the different preparations which enter into their making, ‘of the various condiments and spices and vitamins, any more than one would think of separating in his mind the purely nutritive elements of what is eaten from their non-nutritive adjuncts.
James v. Jones, (1894) 1 Q. B. 304
19. The next case to which I will refer is James v. Jones, (1894) 1 Q. B. 304. That was a case of baking powder and it was held that baking powder is an article of food within the MEANING of the English Sale of Food and Drugs Act, 1875. Now it has to be observed here that the object of that Act was to prevent the adulteration of food with ingredients which are injurious to health. It is evident that the definition would have to be wide so as to include not only foodstuffs strictly so called but also ingredients which ultimately enter into its preparation otherwise the purpose of the legislation, which was to conserve the health of the British people, would have been defeated.
Hinde v. Allmond, (1918) 87 L. J. K. B. 893
20. Next comes a case relating to tea in which a narrower view was taken: Hinde v. Allmond, (1918) 87 L. J. K. B. 893. The question there was whether tea was an “article of food” within the MEANING of an order designed to prohibit the hoarding of food, namely the Food Hoarding Order of 1917. This learned Judges held it was not. But here it is necessary to note the background and at any rate some of the reasons given for the decision. The prosecution there was directed against an ordinary housewife who had in here possession a quantity of tea which exceeded the quantity required for ordinary use and consumption in her household. The Food Hoarding Order did not specify tea or indeed any other article.
It merely prohibited generally the hoarding of any “article of food” by requiring that no person should have in his possession or under his control at any one time more than the quantity required for use and consumption in his household or establishment. Shearman J. said that he rested his Judgment on the “commonsense interpretation of the word ‘food’ in the Order, apart from its MEANING in any other statute” and said:
“I agree with my brother Darling that if it had been intended to include tea as food, it ought to have been expressly so provided in the Order.”
Sainsbury v. Saunders, (1919) 88 L. J. K. B. 441
Darling J., explained what he meant in this case in a later decision, Sainsbury v. Saunders, (1919) 88 L. J. K. B. 441 and said that there was nothing to prevent the Food Controller from saying that a person should not have, for example, so much wine in his possession, provided also that he let a call if “food” and provided also that he let a person who was to be punished known what it was that he was not to do.
21. I think it is clear that the learned Judges were influenced in their Judgment by the fact that the Order in the earlier case was one which affected the ordinary run of householders and housewives who would not have lawyers at their elbows to advise them regarding their day-to day marketing. In the circumstances, they decided that the word should be given its ordinary and popular MEANING, otherwise many innocent householders, who had no intention of breaking the law, would be trapped; and this seems to be the ratio decidendi in the decision of the Bombay High Court in Hublal Kamtaprasad v. Goel Bros. and Co. Ltd., (Appeal No. 14 of 1950) which is the decision virtually’, though not directly, under appeal here, though the learned Judges also take into consideration two further facts, namely that the law should be construed in favour of the freedom of contracts and a penal enactment in favour of the subject.
Sainsburry v. Saunders, (1919) 88 L. J. K. B. 441.
22. The English decision about tea just cited is to be contrasted with another decision, also about tea, given a few months later in the same year: Sainsburry v. Saunders, (1919) 88 L. J. K. B. 441. Two of the Judges, Darling and Avory JJ. were parties to the earlier decision ; Salter J. was not. He held that though tea had been held in the earlier case not to be a “food” for the purpose of the Food Hoarding Order of 1917, it was a “food” within the MEANING of the EXPRESSIONs used in certain Defence of the Realm Regulations read with the New Ministries and Secretaries Act of 1916 which empowered the Food Controller to regulate “the food supply of the country” and the “supply and consumption and production of food.”
Avory J. also considered that tea was an article of food for the purposes of these laws though Darling J. preferred to adhere to his earlier view. All three Judges also held that the provisions were wide enough to enable the Food Controller to hit at articles which were not food at all, such as sacks and tin containers (Darling J.) so long as he was able by these means even indirectly to regulate the supply of “food”, but that portion of the decision does not concern us here because the laws they were interpreting were more widely phrased.
23. Now the comparison of one Act with another is dangerous, especially when the Act used for comparison is an English Act and a war-time measure, and I have no intention of falling into that error. I am concerned here with the Act before me and must interpret its provisions uninfluenced by EXPRESSIONs, however similar, used in other Acts. I have referred to the cases discussed above, not for purposes of comparison but to show that the terms “food” and “foodstuffs” can be used in both a wide and a narrow sense and that the circumstances and background can alone determine which is proper in any given case.
SOURCE: AIR 1952 SC 335 : (1952) SCR 877 : (1952) CriLJ SC 1406