Experts raise concern on ’Health Star Rating’ label on food packages

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Food policy experts and doctors exchange notes on FOPL at a virtual discussion organised by CUTS International

From various news reports it has come to light that the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) might show preference to opt for Health Star Rating (HSR) Label for the Front-of-package label (FOPL) mandate. This was a topic of concern at a recent webinar organised by Jaipur-based CUTS International, given that the country has a huge number of poor, illiterate and vulnerable populations.

To help consumers make healthier choices, Australia and New Zealand had introduced the voluntary HSR system in 2014 that is quite similar to the energy rating label used on our electrical appliances. But recent studies shows that their system is highly flawed as unhealthy food products are still able to get a high score as the rating is based on the overall nutritional value, and any inclusion of healthy ingredients like fibre and protein to an otherwise unhealthy product could easily cancel out its unhealthy ingredients (i.e. sugar, saturated fats and salt).

According to Dr. Alexandra Jones, Research Fellow, Food Policy and Law, The George Institute for Global Health, Australia, “HSR allows industry to use it selectively. Hence it is used on products that are already healthier than others. Food products that have a high content of negative nutrients often do not display HSR which is a voluntary system in our country.” 

Only a fourth of Indian households are currently aware of Bureau of Energy Efficiency-BEE’s star labels. More importantly, the HSR system does not effectively assist the vulnerable consumers who need it the most, said George Cheriyan, Director, CUTS International in his opening address as the moderator.

Amit Khurana, Director, Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi expressed that it was disheartening to see that even after eight years the country is still discussing FOPL.

Saroja Sundaram, Executive Director, Citizen Consumer and Civic Action Group (CAG), Chennai spoke about FOPL from a consumer perspective and reminded regulators how the existing detailed nutritional summary provided in the back of the product never served the purpose due to language barrier and consumer ignorance about its purpose. 

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