The Debate around star ratings for food packets mooted by FSSAI
- The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) is expected to issue a draft regulation for labels on front of food packets that will inform consumers if a product is high in salt, sugar and fat.
- It is expected to propose a system under which stars will be assigned to a product, which has earned the ire of public health experts and consumer organisations who say it will be misleading and ineffective.
Need for front-of-package labelling
- 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 increased risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
- An increased consumption of packaged and junk food has also led to a double burden of undernutrition and overnutrition among children.
- Over half of the children and adolescents, whether under-nourished or with normal weight, are at risk of cardiovascular diseases, according to an analysis by the Comprehensive National Nutrition Survey in India (2016-2018).
- Reducing sugar, salt, and fat is among the best ways to prevent and control non-communicable diseases.
- 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.
About recent decision taken by FSSAI
- Three important decisions were taken on what would be the content of the draft regulations on front-of-package labelling.
- 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.
Reasons for opposition to the rating system
- In a health-star rating system, introduced in 2014 in Australia and New Zealand, a product is assigned a certain number of stars using a calculator designed to assess positive (e.g., fruit, nuts, protein content, etc) and risk nutrients in food (calories, saturated fat, total sugar, sodium).
- Scientists have said that such a system misrepresents nutrition science and the presence of fruit in a fruit drink juice does not offset the impact of added sugar.
- 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.
- The FSSAI is expected to make its draft regulations on front-of-package public soliciting comments from all stakeholders. The FSSAI's scientific panel, composed of independent experts, will study these comments and make its proposal. Following this, it will go to a scientific committee, the FSSAI and the Health Ministry before the regulations are tabled before Parliament.
Q Discuss about the recent decision taken by the FSSAI regarding rating of food packets and the reasons for opposition to this system.