Veg and Non-Veg Symbols


The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) made the Food Safety and Standards (Packaging and Labelling) Regulations, 2011, but now the Food Authority has decided to divide these regulations into two regulations:
(i) The Food Safety and Standards (Packaging) Regulations, 2018; and
(ii) The Food Safety and Standards (Labelling and Display) Regulations, 2019.

Reproduced below are relevant sections from the December 2020 Notification of the The Food Safety and Standards (Labelling and Display) Regulations, 2019:

1.2. Definitions:
(1)(o) “Non-Vegetarian Food” means an article of food which contains whole or part of any animal including birds, insects, fresh water or marine animals or eggs or products of any animal origin, but does not include milk, milk products, honey or bees wax or carnauba wax or shellac.
(1)(v) “Vegetarian Food” means any article of food other than Non-Vegetarian Food as defined in these regulations.

2. Labelling Requirements:
5(4) Declaration regarding Veg or Non-Veg
5(4)(a) Every package of Non-Vegetarian Food containing ingredients including food additives, processing aids of animal origin shall bear a declaration to this effect made by a symbol and colour code as stipulated below. The symbol shall consist of a brown colour filled triangle inside a square with brown outline having the sides not less than the minimum size specified in the Table mentioned in the regulation 5(4)(c), as indicated below:

Provided where any article of good contains egg only as Non-Vegetarian ingredient, the manufacturer, or packer or seller may give declaration to this effect in addition to the said symbol. 

5(4)(b) Every package of Vegetarian Food containing ingredients including food additives, processing aids of plant origin shall bear a declaration to this effect by a symbol and colour code as stipulated below. They symbol shall consist of a green colour filled circle inside a square with green outline having the diameter not less than the minimum size specified in the Table mentioned in the regulation 5(4)(c), as indicated below:

5(4)(d) Declaration regarding Veg or Non-Veg shall also be prominently displayed as provided in this regulation on the pamphlets, leaflets and advertisements in any media. The symbol shall be prominently displayed on the package having contrast background on principal display panel, just close in proximity to the name or name or brand name of the production front of pack.

Provisions of regulations (5)(4)(a) and (5)(4)(b) shall not apply in respect of mineral water, packaged drinking water, carbonated water, alcoholic beverages, liquid milk, milk powders and honey.

5(7)(e) Fortified Food and Organic Food shall be marked with the logo as specified in schedule II of these regulations. FSSAI may specify logo for any other food as decided from time to time.

5(14) Declaration regarding Food allergen:
The following foods and ingredients which are known to cause allergy shall be declared separately as
Contains.................. (Name of allergy causing ingredients)
(i) Cereals containing gluten; i.e., wheat, rye, barley, oats, spelt or their hybridized strains and products of these (To be declared as name of the cereal);
(ii) Crustacean and their products (To be declared as Crustacean);
(iii) Milk & Milk products(To be declared as Milk);
(iv) Eggs and egg products (To be declared as Egg);
(v) Fish and fish products (To be declared as Fish);
(vi) Peanuts, tree nuts (e.g. almonds, walnuts, pistachio, cashew nuts) and their products (To be declared as Nut);
(vii) Soybeans and their products (To be declared as Soy);
(viii) Sulphite in concentrations of 10mg/kg or more (To be declared as Sulphite)

Provided that in case presence of ingredients due to cross contamination which are known to cause allergy may be declared separately as May contain .......................... (Name of allergy causing ingredients).
Provided further that this declaration is not required in case of oils derived from these ingredients.
Raw agricultural commodities are exempted from the allergen labelling requirements.

5(15) Every package of food materials sold in retail but which is not meant for human consumption example Pooja water, Ghee for diya, Oil for Pooja, etc. shall bear a declaration to this effect as stipulated below. The symbol shall consist of a black colour cross inside a square with black outline having the sides of square not less than the minimum size specified in the Table mentioned in the regulation 5(4)(c), as indicated below:

3. Display of information in food service establishments:
9(2) Food Service Establishments shall also mention the information specified below against the food items displayed on the menu cards or boards:

(b) logo for veg or non-veg.

Court Order and FSSAI compliance

In 2021 the High Court of Delhi in response to a Writ Petition by the Ram Gaua Raksha Dal ordered the FSSAI to issue a circular to all concerned regarding declaration with respect to affixing veg and non-veg logo depending on the source of ingredients including additives, utilised, on the food labels.

In short, an accurate declaration by affixing non-veg or veg symbol/logo on food articles is mandatory irrespective of the percentage of any ingredient or additive.


Beauty Without Cruelty kept approaching the Government of India pointing out that it was the right of each and every consumer to know whether products contained vegetarian or non-vegetarian ingredients. Eventually in 2001 a Government Notification made it mandatory for packaged food manufacturers to affix Veg/Non-veg symbols consisting of a square with dot within in green/brown. (There is a misconception that brown indicates the presence of egg, whereas the red symbol is used for flesh/meat. Actually, brown is the mandatory colour, but red is often used in its place. But whether red or brown, it indicates the presence of egg or meat, or both.)

As a result of BWC's continuous appeals to the Government to make it mandatory for carbonated waters to also carry the veg/non-veg symbols, these symbols began being affixed by manufacturers on their drinks in early 2009. 

However, for many years Beauty Without Cruelty kept approaching (and continues to approach) the Government of India to make it mandatory for these Veg/Non-veg symbols to be also affixed on cosmetics, toiletries and drugs. 

Cosmetics and toilet preparations such as soaps are items that people use on their bodies, even their lips, and for that reason are of concern to them. The ingredients used might be objectionable to many on grounds of vegetarianism, religion, on the method if testing employed, or simply because of being allergic to particular substances. 

BWC researched this issue in great detail over decades and has unearthed some dubious sources and unethical testing methods employed in producing such items. Even if the substances and methods used are currently within the law, we feel that consumers have the right to be fully informed by manufacturers of the constituents of products they are buying. 

BWC has therefore specifically made the following requests to the Government periodically:

• Every ingredient used, no mater in how small a quantity should be declared in order of decreasing quantity on the label, using its scientific name.
• The same law that requires food producers to declare their product vegetarian or non-vegetarian through the use of the green and brown symbols/logos should cover all (herbal, Ayurvedic, etc.) cosmetics and toilet preparations as well. The scientific names of the ingredients otherwise would be meaningless to the consumer, who is only concerned that it should not be of a non-vegetarian nature.
• A line declaring “Batch-tested upon animals” or “Not batch-tested upon animals” be added on the package. (This is irrelevant now because testing has been totally banned. See below.)

Nevertheless, from the very beginning BWC - India has campaigned against cosmetics and toiletries being tested by means of experiments on animals, and requested the government not to allow such tests.

In response to persistent demands from animal activists and the growing international trend of animals no longer being used to test cosmetics, at long last in February 2013, the DCGI (Drugs Controller General of India) issued a directive to indefinitely suspend such tests till adequately validated non-animal methods are included in the safety standards by the BIS (Bureau of Indian Standards). Then in June 2013, BIS removed animal-testing from its cosmetics standard and made non-animal alternative tests mandatory. If manufacturers desired to test new cosmetic ingredients or their finished products, they would need to obtain approval from the Central Drug Standards Control Organisation and it would be granted only after having complied with the non-animal tests. Furthermore, if a manufacturer tested a cosmetic product on animals, it would attract the provisions of the Drugs and Cosmetic Act making the company’s management liable for imprisonment up to 10 years and/or a fine up to Rs 10,000/-. A Ministry of Health and Family Welfare Notification followed in May 2014 stating “Import of cosmetics tested on animals prohibited. – No cosmetic tested on animals shall be imported.” would be inserted as 135-B in the Drugs and Cosmetics Rules 1945.

In short, no cosmetics tested on animals, whether by manufacturers in India or imported, can be sold November 2014 onwards. But unfortunately companies continued importing products which had been tested on animals and so in 2016 the DCGI directed all port officers, beauty and hygiene associations and state controllers to keep a close check on such products. The norms have been simultaneously relaxed with the proposed new regulations from the Health Ministry waiving trails for cosmetics which contain ingredients that have already been tested for use in pharmaceuticals.

Earlier, in March 2013 the Supreme Court over turned a 12-year old High Court verdict directing cosmetic and drug manufacturers to print the veg and non-veg symbols on cosmetics and drugs, saying that the court had no jurisdiction to issue such directions and that it had already been considered by the Government. In view of this, BWC approached the Prime Minister and many politicians saying that they were bound to agree it was good that we can easily tell from the green and brown symbols affixed on packaged foods and beverages, whether the products are veg or non-veg. It was the right of all consumers – whether vegetarian or not – to know the contents of products. For example, no religious minded Indian would like to unknowingly purchase products like toothpastes or cosmetics that may contain ingredients derived from animals such as cows or pigs. We therefore requested their help in getting the Government of India to also make it mandatory for manufacturers to affix the green and brown symbols on each and every product consumed internally or used on our bodies like toilet preparations, cosmetics, dietary supplements, medicines, drugs and other pharmaceuticals. By doing so the Government would be acting in public interest and consumers would be grateful that they could make informed choices. However, the then Government of India did not extend the law to cover additional products as requested.

In 2014, the new Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi upon receiving a request from BWC immediately extended the Veg/Non-Veg labeling law to cover cosmetics, soaps, shampoos, toothpastes and toiletries.

In September 2014, IBHA (representing 32 big cosmetic manufacturers) was granted a stay by the Division Bench of the Bombay High Court on the implementation of the Notification. Unfortunately, the Centre did not file their response as required in a fortnight and sought more time. Beauty Without Cruelty therefore sent the Government of India adequate information that should help them in the matter.

In May 2018, the Drug Technical Advisory Board (DTAB) approved the proposal but the Notification was stalled by the Ministry of Law whose approval was not forthcoming. Then in 2021, DTAB did a complete U-turn and rejected it ridiculously stating: “There is no clarity and system to certify vegetarian and non-vegetarian ingredients in the country. Hence, the Board did not agree for mandating the indication of green or red/brown dot on every package of cosmetics, as it may complicate the regulation and add regulatory burden on stakeholders.” Firstly, there is clarity in definitions of veg and non-veg for food articles and the same would apply for other items; secondly, it adds regulatory burden on manufacturers to declare is an absolutely unacceptable, unfair and unethical reason as far as consumers are concerned.

BWC salutes manufacturers whose soaps, shampoos, toothpastes, cosmetics and toiletries, and even agarbattis that do not contain animal ingredients. Long ago, they thought it prudent to proudly display the green symbol on their products.

Why should the other manufacturers, mainly multi-nationals, escape disclosing vital information on product ingredients? The public demand transparency, factual awareness and honesty, and realize that secrecy indicates some thing is amiss. After all, these days significantly fewer people support cruelty for vanity. Even non-vegetarians consciously avoid using items that are derived as a result of cruelty to animals. During the second half of 2015, at least 18 tankers headed to laundry soap manufacturing units in Punjab, containing tallow (claimed to be of buffalo) were seized by the police on complaints from cow vigilantes. There is no laboratory that can ascertain the origin of such tallow, whether buffalo or cow. It is a good enough reason for all the 125 or so manufacturers to substitute tallow with vegetable tallow/oil.

As consumers, it is our inherent right to know if the products we purchase are veg or non-veg. And, manufacturers should know the choice is ours – whether or not to use products containing animal ingredients. In all fairness, if to maintain and increase sales, they are forced to eliminate non-veg ingredients, just as well!

No wonder in December 2021 the Delhi High Court in response to an NGO’s petition seeking formulation of guidelines to make it mandatory for manufacturers to label all consumable items according to the ingredients used in them, directed the Government to disclose the exact specifications of the source and ingredients of food articles in simple, layman’s terms. The Court noted that for example Di-sodium inosinate or E631, an food additive ingredient found in instant noodles, potato chips, and a variety of other snacks, was commercially prepared from meat and fish and sourced from pig fat. But the products that contained this food additive had the green veg symbol affixed on them. The Court Bench said:
“Even though their usage may constitute a miniscule percentage, the use of non-vegetarian ingredients would render such food articles non-vegetarian, and would offend the religious and cultural sensibilities/sentiments of strict vegetarians, and would interfere in their right to freely profess, practice and propagate their religion and belief. Every person has a right to know as to what he/she is consuming, and nothing can be offered to the person on a platter by resort to deceit or camouflage.
“We therefore direct the respondents to ensure that there should be full and complete disclosure of all the ingredients which go into the manufacture of any food article, not only by their code names but also by disclosing as to the whether they originate from plant, or animal source, or whether they are manufactured in a laboratory, irrespective of their percentage in the food article. It should be fairly disclosed as to what is the plant source, or animal source – as the case may be, in respect of all the ingredients in whatever measure they are used. The Food Business Operators are directed to ensure full and strict compliance of Regulation 2.2.2(4) on the basis that the use of any ingredient – in whatever measure or percentage, which is sourced from animals, would render the food article as Non-Vegetarian.”
The Court directed FSSAI to file a compliance report in the matter by January 31, 2022, the date listed for the next hearing.

If there is no demand for unmarked (and non-veg marked) items, manufacturers will quickly change their formulas so they can display the veg symbol on their products. A step in the right direction occurred in July 2015 when the Scientific Committee advising the Drug Controller General of India decided in principle to replace gelatine capsules with cellulose capsules. It came about as a result of BWC’s awareness creating efforts specifically targeting the use of gelatine capsules derived from connective tissues, skin and bone of slaughtered cattle.

BWC’s campaign to make it mandatory for manufacturers to affix these green and brown symbols on each and every product consumed internally or used on our bodies like dietary supplements, medicines, drugs and other pharmaceuticals, continues. We would also like items such as agarbattis, dhoop, disinfectants, air fresheners, candles, adhesives, brushes, crockery, handicrafts and all other consumer products covered because they could contain hidden animal ingredients. After all, if a product is veg, why should the manufacturer not mark it so, especially when by doing so, sales are bound to increase?

A ray of hope: in May 2018 the Drugs Technical Advisory Board made it mandatory for cosmetics and toiletries (covering face-washes, toothpastes, cosmetics, perfumes, etc) to be marked with a green or brown symbol. BWC immediately requested the Ministry of Health to issue the Notification soon so that there was no scope for it being stalled by the industry yet again. As things stand (December 2021) approval for issuing the Notification has not been granted by the Ministry of Law and Justice. BWC is diligently following up the matter without any success.

Meanwhile, consumers could buy and use only those products marked with the green symbol (square with dot). They could also write to manufacturers demanding that they affix the veg/non-veg certification on their packages that carry no symbol.

Page last updated on 23/03/22