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Bournvita controversy snowballs after MNC threatens legal action against small fry

By Rajiv Shah* 

Amidst raging controversy over the top children's product Bournvita's allegedly misleading information on claims of "improved brain activity, improved muscles, improved immune system and improved bone health", a spokesperson of the Cadbury's one of the most well-known brands has said, over the last seven decades it "has earned the trust of consumers in India."
Insisting that by being a scientifically formulated product that "adheres to the highest quality standards and complies with all the laws of the land", Bournvita, "concerned by a recent unscientific video on social media that went abnormally viral", the spokesperson said, the video distorts facts and makes "false and negative inferences" about its "safety and efficacy".
Stating that the video (now withdrawn) presenter's comments "are not based on science and were designed to drive anxiety and fear among our loyal consumers by misrepresenting the facts and omitting factually correct information to sensationalize his view", the spokesperson admitted, it has "created panic and anxiety and questions the trust that consumers have bestowed on brands like Bournvita."
The spokesperson insisted, "The formulation has been scientifically crafted by a team of nutritionists and food scientists to offer the best of taste and health. All our claims are verified and transparent and all ingredients have regulatory approvals. All the necessary nutritional information is mentioned on the pack for consumers to make informed choices."
The spokesperson further said:
"Bournvita is best consumed with a glass of 200 ml hot or cold milk as highlighted on the pack. Every serve of 20 gm of Bournvita has 7.5 grams of added sugar, which is approximately one and a half teaspoons. This is much less than the daily recommended intake limits of sugar for children.
"Bournvita contains nutrients namely Vitamin A, C, D, B12, Iron, Zinc, Copper and Selenium which supports the immune system. These have been part of our formulation and we have always called out 'Helps with healthy functioning of the immune system' on the back of our pack for several years (even before the Covid-19 pandemic).
"Caramel Colour (150 C) is within permissible limits as per guidelines defined by regulations.
"All ingredients are safe, approved for use and within permissible limits as per the regulatory guidelines."
Refuting the Bournvita spokesperson's argument, Dr Arun Gupta, central coordinator, Breastfeeding Promotion Network of India (BPNI), convener, Nutrition Advocacy for Public Interest (NAPi), and former member, PM’s Council on India’s Nutrition Challenges, came up with a statement stating that "ultra processed foods" are "inherently harmful."
Stating that the presenter's video -- now taken down -- is "scientific", in that it makes "people aware of the harmful product", Dr Gupta said, "Scientifically crafted means nothing to health if the product is harmful. Whole of Cadbury team should listen to this video by one of the best scientists of the world." 
Further underlining that the presenter's video did a lot of public service to make people aware, Dr Gupta said, "Colours, additives, emulsifiers and raising agents are all harmful to human health. Enough evidence is available if Cadbury or anyone else wanted to read and reflect."
Click here to watch the controversial video 
The controversy erupted after the presenter, through his Instagram handle, The FoodPharmer, called out "misleading information on Cadbury's Bournvita product", which claimed "improved brain activity, improved muscles, improved immune system and improved bone health."
The presenter, Revant Himatsingka, who goes by the handle ‘Food Pharmer’ on Instagram with over 128K followers, posted the video on April 1, 2023, criticized Cadbury’s Bournvita for ‘miscommunicating’ on its package about the health drink’s ‘nutritional value’.
He also spoke about how the back of the pack has fine print about the ‘nutritional’ element of the drink, while the front makes tall claims intended to attract parents (much like the way the brand advertises).
"To be sure, Cadbury’s Bournvita is not alone in this front vs. back game – we could easily add every other so-called ‘health’ drink to this list – Boost, Complan, Horlicks, Milo, etc. It so happened that Revant picked one brand to make this point about sugar addiction caused by such products", commented Karthik S in a blog referring to Revant's post. 
Revant’s video went viral, with over 12 million views, and was shared by many celebrities, forcing Bournvita to take legal recourse to "avoid misinformation". It also issued a statement to clarify and share the "correct facts to allay the concerns of our consumers."
Commented Karthik, "I can completely understand why Revant decided to delete the video and apologize. A legal notice from a corporate behemoth like Cadbury is not worth fighting against, particularly by an individual."
He continued, "As for Cadbury’s stand in managing this reputational crisis, what they did first, by offering a clarification, was quite appropriate and needed. The truth is their first and best defense, provided they have a compelling truth to counter Revant’s claims.
"If they had focused on the facts and called out specific exaggerations of Revant, their clarification would have been discussed in sync with Revant’s viral video", the blogger added.
However, he regretted, "The brand decided to shut Revant through a legal notice. Such intimidatory tactics don’t always go down well and result in what we call the ‘Streisand effect’ (attempts to hide, remove, or censor information can lead to the unintended consequence of increasing awareness of that information)."
"Understandably, there are a lot more people sharing Revant’s original video now, along with news reports of a ‘health influencer being sued by Bournvita’", he added. 
Already, a Modi bhakt, @i_desi_surya has approvingly posted Revant's video.
Also, a Twitter handle, @TheLiverDoc in a Twitter thread said  this:
"Instagram influencer, The FoodPharmer deleted his video, calling out the misleading information on Cadbury's Bounrvita product. Essentially, the product claimed improved brain activity, improved muscles, improved immune system and improved bone health.
All of these require empirical evidence for confirmation.
"Cadbury's has made a statement that they have designed the product on scientific basis, which means there has to be published studies backing their claims.
Here are the ones I found:
"1. A study showed that caffeine content in Bournvita was higher than other similar cocoa based products.
"2. Pregnant women in Nigeria avoided Bournvita due to fear of developing "big babies" and complicated labour/delivery.
"3. Another study showed that Bournvita product changes color due to inherent changes in pH due to its "sugary" content.…
"4. The last paper I came across anything remotely to Cadbury's the maker of Bournvita is this one: "Critics say UNICEF-Cadbury partnership is mere sugarwashing." -…
"Basically, the claims of scientific methods or studies and the scientific evidence for everything that is written on the Bournvita product is not backed by good evidence and thus, Cadbury's claims are misleading on muscle and bone growth, immunity enhancement and brain development - there are no controlled studies to show the same.
Considering the high sugar content of 71%, per serve 20g has 14.2g sugar which is approx. 57% of recommended upper daily limit and this will only increase if more milk is added, or additional sugar used over the day. Hence "claim" that using the product as advised is safe is also a misleading one.
"Big Food Pharma must come with empirical evidence rather than muscle tactics to prove a point. Herbalife did the same with me when I reported on the death of a young woman after consuming Herbalife products.
"The motto of FMCG industry is:
"'Protect the business at any cost, call out and persecute the whistleblowers and keep the consumers ignorant all the while throwing them under the bus'."
*Editor, Counterview


To think that I grew up with Bournvita!
This is an unpleasant bit of information and I hope it reaches everybody so they can avoid using it.


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