Context: The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) is expected to issue a draft regulation for labels on the front of food packets that will inform consumers if a product is high in salt, sugar and fat.
This topic of “Food labelling in India: Front-of-package labelling – Need, opposition, and the way forward” is important from the perspective of the UPSC IAS Examination, which falls under General Studies Portion.
Why do we need front-of-package labelling?
While the FSSAI requires mandatory disclosure of nutrition information on food packets, this is located on the back of a packet and is difficult to interpret.
- In the past three decades, the country’s disease patterns have shifted.
- While mortality due to communicable, maternal, neonatal, and nutritional diseases has declined and India’s population is living longer, non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and injuries are increasingly contributing to the overall disease burden.
- In 2016, NCDs accounted for 55% of premature death and disability in the country.
- Indians also have a disposition for excessive fat around the stomach and abdomen which leads to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
- According to the National Family Health Survey-5 (2019-2021), 47.7% of men and 56.7% of women have a high-risk waist-to-hip ratio.
- Increased consumption of packaged and junk food has also led to a double burden of undernutrition and overnutrition among children.
- According to an analysis by the Comprehensive National Nutrition Survey in India (2016-2018), over half of the children and adolescents, whether under-nourished or with normal weight, are at risk of cardiovascular diseases.
Reducing sugar, salt, and fat is among the best ways to prevent and control non-communicable diseases.
The recent decisions that are taken by FSSAI
- Three important decisions were taken by FSSAI on what would be the content of the draft regulations on front-of-package labelling at a stakeholder’s meeting recently.
- These included:
- Threshold levels to be used to determine whether a food product was high in sugar, salt and fat.
- The implementation will be voluntary for a period of four years before it is made mandatory.
- The health-star rating system would be used as labels on the basis of a study commissioned by the FSSAI and conducted by IIM-Ahmedabad.
Contention over the recent decisions taken by FSSAI:
- The food industry agreed with the FSSAI’s decision on the issue of mandatory implementation and use of ratings and sought more time to study the issue of thresholds.
- The World Health Organization representative said the threshold levels were lenient, while the consumer organisations opposed all three decisions.
- The biggest contention is over the use of a health-star rating system that uses 1/2 a star to five stars to indicate the overall nutrition profile of a product.
Why is there opposition to the rating system?
- Experts say that so far there is no evidence of the rating system impacting consumer behaviour.
- The stars can also lead to a ‘health halo’ because of their positive connotation making it harder to identify harmful products.
- Over 40 global experts have also called the IIM-Ahmedabad study flawed in design and interpretation.
- There are many other labelling systems in the world, such as “warning labels”.
- Global studies have shown a warning label is the only format that has led to a positive impact on food and beverage purchases forcing the industry to reformulate its products to remove major amounts of sugar and salt.
Practice Question for Mains
- Discuss the need of introducing Front of-package labelling in India (150 Words, 10 marks).