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Delay, Dilution and Display Regulations of Labelling Junk Food by FSSAI

Dr. Lakshmi Unnithan
Dr. Lakshmi Unnithan

Modern diets are causing major obesity, non-communicable diseases and under-nutrition challenges worldwide, according to a new report by The Lancet. Transforming Food Safety in India is the main objective of an organisation like FSSAI. The mission of FSSAI is to set globally benchmarked standards and ensure food businesses to follow these standards and adopt good manufacturing and hygiene practices and finally enable citizens to eat safe and right. But to ensure safety and precaution does it take 6 years and 3 months and yet a weak draft waiting to be notified for 5 months. Why the delay and where is the issue? Many of the biggest American fast-food brands are available all over the world today. 

CSE lashes out at  all the multinational American Companies like KFC, Mc Donalds, Subway, Nestle(Maggi),Capital foods (Chings Secret Schezwan), Patanjali who run outlets in India and the processed packed food chains like Haldirams (Classic Nut Crackers, Aloo Bhujia),Uncle Chips, Lays, Pepsico (Kurkure masala),ITC(Bingo Mad Angles Delight Achaari masti). etc. An analysis by CSE reports High salt, transfat and fat in all processed packed products which is easy within the reach of small children from the age of 2. An acquired taste within you from the time one starts having these foods. Their analysis revealed misleading labels of transfats in packaged foods. High transfat intake through most fast foods, but mention correctly or declare at all.

There has been a saga of delay and dilutions:6 years and 3 committees, yet a weak draft waiting to be notified for 5 months. In March 2013,FSSAI sets up expert committee on junk food in schools which also strongly recommends strengthening of nutrition labelling and front of pack labelling of calories, sugar, fat and saturated fat and salt. In June 2013 FSSAI sets up 11 member expert committee led by D Prabhakaran to assess the consumption of fat, salt and sugar in India and its health impacts .In May 2012,Prabhakaran committee endorses guidelines of 2013 committee and emphasises concrete action to resolve ambiguities on serving size and nutritional information people need. In April 2018 FSSAI put up draft FSS (Labelling and Display) Regulations,2019. FSSAI requires declaration of salt, they proposed front of pack labelling of calorie, total fat, total sugar, transfat and salt and Provided thresholds for red colour coding. But in August 2018 starts the phase of delay and dilution.

FSSAI again sets up a panel led by B. Sesikeran, former Director of National Institute of Nutrition, to review the draft regulations in view of industry's concerns on FoP labels .Committees suggestions were not made public. In July 2019 FSSAI issues draft notification FSS (Labelling and Display)Regulations ,2019with severely diluted FoP labelling. Total fat is replaced with saturated fat, salt with sodium, total sugar with added sugar. RDA of added sugar kept same as that of total sugar(50 g) allowing fast food companies 25% deviation from labelled quantities.

There are umpteen Design issues which has been stated by CSE in proposed FoP in India as compared to the new global best pratices of warning symbols. The packets contain complicated numbers that makes it difficult to understand. Gives mixed message with respect to non red blocks. FSSAI has also kept the option of additional colours – which could be green and make the label ineffective. The Draft does not specify the size and placement of the label.

There are some countries like Chile ,Peru, Italy who has already gone ahead with  Black Octagonal warning labels with white outline that differentiates the label, icon based warning labels proposed in Israel. There are no complex numbers on the package and emphasis laid on making labels noticeable by defining size of label and placement on the upper panel of the label.

All these delays and dilutions looks primafacia like FSSAI favouring the Multinational Companies. The  mislabellings may develop a perception that other fats are not healthy, ignores that all fats contribute equally to calorie. These delays in letting the whole world know that this is not safe to eat is not at all addressing the problems of obesity and Diabetes.

India’s food regulator, FSSAI should act quick, taking into account of the non communicable diseases spreading in Indian cities and must notify the draft immediately, also should take into account the nutrients mentioned in the 2018 draft on FoP i.e. salt ,total fat and total sugar instead of sodium, saturated fat and added sugar. FSSAI should consider a red Octagon symbol that is easily interpreted and help transcend the literacy and language barriers.

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