Food and beverage companies may have to compulsorily disclose additional information on the sugar, salt and sodium content of their packaged products, as part of a proposed revision of food labelling laws, said a top official of India’s apex food regulator.
Currently, packaged food companies — including those who make instant noodles, biscuits, snacks and breakfast cereal — need specify only the energy, protein, carbohydrate and fat content on their covers.
Information on other constituents such as sodium, salt, vitamins need not be disclosed unless companies claim it as part of their advertising pitch. For instance, details on fibre content in biscuits or the percentage of trans unsaturated fatty acids (trans fats) need not be specified unless a company promotes them as “high fibre” or “zero trans-fat.” This gives companies leeway to not disclose if, say, their high-fibre biscuits are also high on sugar or sodium. The World Health Organisation recommends that an adult should not have more than 25 gm of sugar per day while the American Heart Association says that an adult should not consume more than 2.3 gm of sodium. While both of these are critical to the healthy functioning of the body, they can, in large amounts aggravate diabetes and hypertension.
In several countries, companies are required to specify the proportion of the daily recommended sodium, salt and fats that will be consumed in a packet or serving of processed food. A forthcoming update to India’s food regulations will consider incorporating this.
“We have set up various panels on scientific assessment and labelling to consider these issues and may incorporate this in our revised labelling norms,” Pawan Agarwal, CEO, Food Safety and Standards Authority of India, told The Hindu , “However this is quite a challenge and requires much consultation.”
Draft likely in a month
A draft of these notifications is expected in a month but after that would require clearance by the Health Ministry for it to become a norm, according to Mr. Agrawal.
On Friday, the Centre for Science and Environment made public a report Food Labelling, Claims And Advertisements — in the presence of Mr. Agarwal — detailing instances of under-reporting by several food and beverage companies.
“In contrast to best practices in other parts of the world, there is no mention of several other types of nutrition claims,” Amit Khurana, programme manager, Food Safety and Toxins team, CSE, said in a statement.
“There is a clear trend of focussing on a single attribute of a product while making claims…a look at the content of a few popular packaged food claims suggests that these could be unhealthy due to nutrients other than those claimed.”
As an example, the report mentions how a Coca-Cola can in the United Kingdom and Mexico specifies — along with the energy content — what percentage of the daily recommended fat, saturates, sugars and salt are met if a single can is consumed. In India, no other information is available other than the carbohydrate, protein, sugar and energy content (in grams).