CUTS International raises concerns on proposed Indian Nutrition Rating display on food labels

Thousands of other relevant stakeholders are vehemently opposing the draft regulation in the present format

CUTS International has written to Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) and also personally handed over a written submission to the Chairperson, Parliamentary Committee on Health and Family Welfare highlighting key areas of concern in the draft Food Safety and Standards (Labelling & Display) Amendment Regulations, 2022 related to front-of-pack labelling (FOPL) that had been uploaded by the Authority seeking public comments.

The draft in the current format, if finalised, will lay down the rules for rating food products based on nutrition content on the front of packet throughout India, and could have vast potential to confuse consumers if not thoroughly revised, claimed George Cheriyan, Director, CUTS International.

Elaborating further he stressed that “This is a disastrous one-sided move to appease food industries ignoring the concerns raised by health experts and consumer organisations. In the present format it is just a confusing piece of draft Regulation, and our priority at this stage is to take the opportunity to halt the process of taking this draft forward, and highlight to the government and the FSSAI the impact that the Regulation would have on consumers if left unchanged.”

Key recommendations on the draft regulation includes: To adopt simple, interpretive ‘high in’ style warning label which is mandatory rather than being voluntary as it has been established as the most reliable FoPL format that improves public health and aids consumers (regardless of their age, literacy proficiency or socio-economic strata) to make healthier choices. CUTS is stressing upon the fact that the regulation should be made mandatory with immediate effect with exception for the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) who can be given a grace period of 12 months or lesser to adopt.

Second, other countries experiences have shown that the industry can easily manipulate the proposed Indian Nutrition Rating (INR) system that is mentioned in the draft notification. Food products high in salt, sugar or fat that deserve a low rating (1 star) could get a moderate rating (3 or even 4 stars) by adding some positive nutrients such as fibre, protein, and vitamins.

Third, intention of FOPL should never be generalised to give information about various nutrients. These are already there in the back of the pack labelling. This tool should be to aid health conscious and ill consumers to easily pick foods products that are healthier and having critical nutrients (Salt, Sugar & Fat) in moderate level.

More importantly, CUTS strongly recommends to adopt the SEARO (South East Asia Region) nutrient profile model as it was developed based on extensive expert consultations and country experiences including India. It is based on WHO Population Nutrient Intake Goals, based on global evidence and data to prevent obesity, diabetes, and related non-communicable diseases (NCDs).   

Image credit- shutterstock

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