“Children are key consumers of food items that are high in fat, sugar and salt, which is leading to a rise in childhood obesity. The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India needs to adopt a detailed framework to regulate ads of these items,” said a release issued by the Centre for Science and Environment.
The CSE also called for making the Food Safety and Standards (Labelling and Display) Regulations, 2018, more effective and stringent.
The draft regulations had been released for comments by the FSSAI in April. The regulations mandate compulsory labelling of salt and introduction of front-of-pack labelling.
“A strict labelling law is important to combat obesity and non-communicable diseases plaguing our country. The draft regulations is a good beginning, but it has major gaps that need to be plugged to make it effective,” said Chandra Bhushan, deputy director general, CSE.
One of the significant gaps that CSE has pointed out is that the draft regulations does not provide for labelling of crucial aspects like added sugar and dietary fibres.
“Public health and nutrition experts recommend that it is best to avoid added sugar in food items. It can be measured and controlled and therefore must be labelled. Also, dietary fibre is a key beneficial component of our diet and must also be labelled. This will help consumers make informed and healthy food choices,” said Amit Khurana, programme director (food safety and toxins unit), CSE.
The draft regulations state that HFSS (high in fat, sugar or salt) food items shall not be advertised to kids in any form. The CSE, however, said that this is not enough.
“Celebrities should not be allowed to endorse these food item and there should be no ads of certain food categories such as soft drinks. Broadcasting regulations should be developed to limit exposure of kids to food ads during TV prime-time,” said Sonam Taneja, programme manager (food safety and toxins unit), CSE.
The draft regulations emphasise on providing nutrition information for each serving of a food item. It also lays down rules that consumers should be made aware of the contribution of each serving to one’s daily quota of salt, sugar or fat.
However, it does not standardise serving sizes. “Determination of serving sizes has been left to the industry, this is a big loophole. We have seen that the food industry often claims very small serving sizes, which are far from reality, and manipulates food labels. Serving sizes must be set by the FSSAI, based on how much is customarily consumed by people in the context of India,” said Mr. Bhushan .