Organisations Urge Health Ministry to add Warning Labels for Unhealthy Food Products
The Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) has been urged to make warning labels mandatory on the front-of-pack for unhealthy foods. The appeal has been made by the Nutritional Advocacy in Public Interest (NAPI) and Breastfeeding Promotion Network of India (BNPI).
The organisations also wrote to the Minister of Health and Family Welfare, Mansukh Mandaviya, in April, 2020, urging him to make front-of-pack labels (FOPL) mandatory for unhealthy food products. The letter said, "Being aware that diseases like diabetes, cancers and heart attacks constitute majority of annual deaths in India, and the strong association of ultra-processed unhealthy diet with such diseases, we believe that to minimise the burden of NCDs, the reduction of rising consumption of unhealthy food products is pivotal."
It added, "The current scientific evidence favours an urgent action on the FOPL front, with an unambiguous preference for warning labels, particularly in settings like India where the literacy levels are sub-optimal. The evidence does not support adoption of the Health Star Rating FOPL."
The Food Safety and Standards Authority (FSSAI) is currently developing a Front-of-Pack Labelling on the unhealthy food products and has decided to include ‘Health Star Rating’ in the draft regulation as indicated in the minutes of the stakeholders meeting held on February 15, 2022.
In a policy brief released earlier this year, the organisations pointed out that while a large section of the population continues to suffer from malnutrition, India faces a severe crisis of a sharply increasing overweight and obesity with consequently high and rising prevalence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs).
The brief said, "In fact, it is already termed the 'diabetes capital of the world' with the diabetic population in the country expected to hit 69.9 million by 2025 and 80 million by 2030 — an increase of 266%." Hypertension is following close at its heels. One of the major determinants of this trend is known to be the over consumption of processed and ultra-processed foods (UPFs) that contain high levels of salt, sugar, and fat; the so-called 'critical nutrients and chemical additives' that are detrimental to public health.
The brief highlighted that FOPL is a simple, inexpensive, practical, and effective tool to inform consumers about the public health implications of the food that they are purchasing for consumption. It also added that considering the disease burden related to highly processed foods, FOPL cannot be left to the food industry that is mandated to profit and have no obligation to public health mandate. "All existing evidence has shown that voluntary FOPL does not come to pass," it said.
The organisations said that the trends of rising obesity and consequent NCDs is a grave public health problem of massive proportions, needing urgent measures to raise awareness among consumers and curtail the consumption of foods high in salt, sugar, and fat.
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