FSSAI’s draft regulation on star rating of food items favour industry, demands revised norms: SJM
The Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM) urged the Food Safety and Standards of India (FSSAI) to introduce revised norms on front-of-the-pack nutrition labelling, claiming the provisions in the draft regulation reflected “industry influence” and did not serve public interest.
The organisation believes that the draft regulation “favours” the food industry and not public health, SJM alleged in a written submission to the FSSAI, raising objections to the proposed regulation.
In September, the FSSAI issued a draft regulation for the front-of-package labelling (FOPL) of foods for packaged food companies and sought comments from stakeholders. The proposed regulation seeks to introduce the concept of placing five-star ratings on packaged food items to inform consumers about their nutritional value.
The SJM said in its letter to the FSSAI that FOPL should be simple, easy to understand, truthful and implemented at the earliest so that consumers could make an informed choice.
However, the draft regulation has proposed to classify food products as “least healthy to healthiest”, which “sounds misleading”, SJM said.
“The FOPL with stars is not helpful at all. Nobody can understand if a food with 2 stars has sugar or salt more than recommended,” Mahajan said, adding “the SJM would like to understand more from FSSAI about how on earth can an ultra-processed food product be classified like that”.
The SJM claimed that the food industry occupied “a majority seat, nearly 70-80 percent” throughout the stakeholders’ meetings at the FSSAI.
“The SJM strongly objects to the food industry being invited to deliberate and decide on what the food labelling policy should be,” SJM said.
If at all the FSSAI needed to consult the food industry, the scientific panel may have called their representatives, listened to their views, recorded them and made them public, SJM added.
“The FSSAI needed to keep up to the Food Safety Act,” SJM said.
SJM noted that the draft regulation was based on a report by the Indian Institute of Management (IIM)-Ahmedabad, which favoured Health Star Rating (HSR) on packaged food items as the “best option” for India.
“The IIM report is not acceptable for policy development. The FSSAI had biased IIM researchers towards the proposal of the HSR,” the SJM said.
The IIM’s report has been “criticised and rejected” by both Indian and global researchers, it added.
“The SJM, therefore, urges you to take steps to revise the regulation in such a way that the FOPL would provide health related risk warnings pertaining to high sugar, salt or saturated fats,” SJM said in his letter.
“We do understand that the star rating cannot give this clear and true alert to a consumer who is increasingly influenced by health claims of the food industry via media promotion. And if they (food products) get stars on unhealthy foods, they will end up making more money on the cost of our people’s health who eat these foods not knowing they are unhealthy,” SJM added. Most countries that have adopted the FOPL have chosen to give warning labels instead of health-star ratings, except New Zealand and Australia, the SJM added.
“Experience in Australia is also now being questioned and the Australian government is giving a rethink on the issue,” SJM added.