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Why Sugar Sector is Opposing FSSAI Move on Labeling Products with Sugar?

Chander Mohan
Chander Mohan

The Food Safety & Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has issued draft regulations which would aim to mandate packaged food companies to label sugar content of products. These companies have to label high fat, sugar and salt contents in front of the package in red colour.

Currently, most of the packaged food firms print nutrition details of the contents that include their recommended daily values, at the back of the package. In a bid to encourage customers make healthier food choices, these regulations propose to make it mandatory to display red colour-coding on front-of-the-pack labels on packaged food products that have high-fat, high-sugar and high-salt content levels. This requirement would be implemented in a phased manner for a period of three years, FSSAI said.

FSSAI said food labels will declare, per serve percentage contribution to recommended dietary allowance on the front of the pack. Members of the Indian Sugar Mills Association (ISMA) & National Federation of Cooperative Sugar Mills that represent both private and cooperative sugar sectors then met the chairman of FSSAI to oppose the draft policy.

For the country’s sugar millers which are already reeling under the impact of falling prices and a piling inventory, this move could come as a major blow as it would imply that consumption of sugar is harmful for health.

The country has been planning these rules, as early as two years ago, requiring food manufacturers to display fat, sugar and salt content on their labels and had been also considering a nationwide “fat tax” on so-called “junk food” to encourage consumers to make healthier food choices. Prakash Naiknavare, Managing Director, National Federation of Cooperative Sugar Factories (NFCSF) termed this as a wrong move at a wrong time. “The industry currently has its back against the wall with a record inventory of the previous season and the current season and there are no sales happening. There is no lift in the market and most importantly, there is no evidence to suggest that the consumption of sugar is harmful. Anything consumed in excess is harmful and in a poor country like India, sugar is the cheapest source of energy. One cannot club sugar in the same class as alcohol, cigarettes and white cocaine.”

Six months ago, the federation had taken up the issue when a workshop was held to impress upon the FSSAI officials to substantiate its stand. FSSAI Chairman had then agreed to put the draft regulations on hold. “Now that it has been revived, we will have to renew our efforts,” he opined.

Maharashtra State Cooperative Sugar Factories Federation MD Sanjay Khatal highlighted that FSSAI needed to reconsider its decision in respect of sugar. “Sugar is a food item essential in terms of requisite blood sugar and energy for the body. It is not an intoxicant requiring statutory warnings. The pressure groups working against sugar and lobbying with governments across the world need to instead focus on educating the need for active lifestyles by individuals consisting of daily exercises and reducing stress. World over where malnutrition is an issue, sugar intakes are pathetically poor and needed to taken note of, too,” he added.

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