Nutritional information must be highlighted with bigger fonts and bold letters, says FSSAI

New measures aim to empower consumers and combat rising health concerns amidst growing demand for clearer food labeling standards.
Image used for representational purpose.
Image used for representational purpose.

NEW DELHI: India’s food regulator on Saturday approved a proposal to display nutritional information regarding total sugar, salt and saturated fat in bold letters and relatively increased font size on labels of packaged food items.

Currently, food companies in India are mandated to print basic nutrient information on back-of-the-packs only.

But, globally, food companies have to follow front-pack labelling, which has proven to help in reducing consumption of unhealthy foods – a demand made by consumer rights group in India too.

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) decision to approve the amendment in the Food Safety and Standards (Labelling and Display) Regulations, 2020 regarding nutritional information labelling was taken in the 44th meeting of the Food Authority.

The draft notification for the amendment would now be put in the public domain for inviting suggestions and objections.

“The amendment aims to empower consumers to better understand the nutritional value of the product they are consuming and make healthier decisions,” a statement from FSSAI said.

“The information regarding per serve percentage (%) contribution to Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) would be given in bold letters for total sugar, total saturated fat and sodium content. Regulation 2 (v) and 5(3) of FSS (Labelling and Display) Regulation, 2020 specifies requirements to mention serving size and nutritional information on the food product label, respectively,” the statement added.

Along with empowering consumers make healthier choices, the amendment would also contribute towards efforts to combat the rise of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) and promote public health and well-being, it said.

“The prioritisation of the development of clear and distinguish labelling requirements would help in the global effort to combat NCDs,” it added.

Speaking with this paper, Dr Arun Gupta, the convenor of National Advocacy in Public Interest (NAPi), a national think-tank on nutrition consisting of independent medical experts, paediatricians and nutritionists, who has been advocating that all pre-packaged food should have front-of-pack labels (FOPL) for salt, sugar, saturated fat content, said, “It is a small step.”

He added that this “does not match and should not replace much needed FOPL - a warning label of high sugar, salt or fat.”

“This information should be available in the advertisement of food products that have high sugar salt or saturated fats. Therefore, necessary condition is a definition of HFSS that should come in sooner than later. That’s what would reasonably and meaningfully contribute to combating rise of obesity and diabetes,” he said.

“Efforts must tackle pervasive marketing for this objective,” he said, adding that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has recommended strong policy to protect children from the harmful impact of food marketing.

Sachin Taparia, founder of LocalCircles, India’s leading community social media platform, said they had requested FSSAI in January to make mandatory a red bar at Front of the Pack for ultra-processed or HFSS (High Fat, Sugar and Salt) foods as 7 in 10 consumers surveyed by them had demanded the same.

“After several follow ups, what has been proposed by FSSAI, is a small step in the right direction but one that falls short of consumer expectations,” he added.

“FSSAI should not shy away from making a RED FOPL mandatory for HFSS foods as it will drive industry to come up with healthier alternatives and lead to a healthier population, which is need of the hour,” Taparia told this paper.

FSSAI officials said they have been issuing advisories from time to time to prevent false and misleading claims.

These include advisories sent to e-commerce website for removal of the term ‘Health Drink’ as it is not defined or standardized anywhere under the FSS Act 2006 or rules/regulations made thereunder.

Also, they have issued directive mandating all Food Business Operators (FBOs) to remove any claim of ‘100% fruit juices’ from the labels and advertisements of reconstituted fruit juices, the use of the term wheat flour/ refined wheat flour, the advertisement and marketing of ORS along with prefix or suffix, nutrient function claim for multi-source edible vegetable oils etc.

These advisories and directives are issued to prevent misleading claims by FBOs.

The meeting, held under the chairmanship of Union Health Secretary Apurva Chandra, was attended by senior officials from various ministries, including from Commerce, Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, Law and Justice, and Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises. Apart from members from states and Union Territories, representatives from industry associations, consumer organizations, research institutes and farmers’ organisations were also present.

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