Doctors are concerned about the FSSAI’s proposed food labeling system because it does little to no advance in uplifting public health.
A draft notification amending the Food Safety and Standards (Labeling and Display) Regulations is currently up for public comment, according to the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI). This change includes front-of-pack nutrition labeling (FOPNL). Foods will be rated under FOPNL using the Indian Nutrition Rating System (INR), which is based on the nutritional data per 100 grammes or 100 ML. The evaluations will range from 0.5 stars, or “least health,” to 5 stars, or “healthiest.”
In order to help consumers quickly, clearly, and effectively identify foods high in sugar, sodium, saturated fats, trans fats, and total fats—essential nutrients linked to the rising burden of non-communicable diseases—front-of-package warning labeling is becoming more and more popular throughout the world.
Across India, regardless of income level or rural or urban environments, consumption of packaged and ultra-processed foods and beverages has increased exponentially. Doctors have issued a warning that this paradigm shift in eating habits is a major factor in the country’s rising rates of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
The “star rating” system has been rated by experts as having the lowest effectiveness for promoting health. Leading physicians in India, including paediatricians, endocrinologists, and cardiologists from nationally significant institutes, have been pleading for more than a year that India put clear warnings on the front of food and beverage packets as a top priority in order to prevent a catastrophic public health crisis.
According to Prof. Umesh Kapil, president of the Epidemiological Foundation of India, it is now or never to take the appropriate corrective action. Our consumption of packaged foods, which are processed with high levels of added sugars, sodium, saturated fats, and refined carbohydrates, is dangerously high.
These factors have all been linked to a higher risk of diabetes, liver and kidney damage, heart disease, and some cancers. The real goal of a front-of-pack label is to provide customers with accurate information about a food product’s health benefits so they may make the best decision possible. Despite its good intentions, the FSSAI’s planned India Nutrition Rating is unlikely to achieve this goal, according to Prof. Kapil.
Despite the fact that there are a variety of food labelling systems available, including warning labels, the traffic light system, nutri-score, guideline daily amount, and health star rating (HSR), studies and consumer surveys show that warning labels are the most effective at assisting consumers in making healthy decisions.
Dr. Pankaj Bharadwaj, Professor of Community Medicine at AIIMS Jodhpur and co-author of the study, cited the observational study done by AIIMS earlier in 2022 and stated, “Our research corroborated a growing body of global evidence that labels that only highlight nutrients of concern, i.e., warning labels, work best to safeguard public health.” It has instant positive effects on public health. even more justification for India to adhere to the gold standard, which accounts for 25% of the world burden of heart disease.
Dr. Suneela Garg, immediate past president of the Indian Association of Preventive and Social Medicine (IAPSM), praised FSSAI for recognising FOPL as a crucial strategy to improve India’s commitment to better nutrition and added, “India’s decision would affect how the world thinks.” If our goal were to protect the health of our citizens in the coming decades, especially adolescents and children, we have enough knowledge and clinical competence to be convinced that unequivocal warnings would be most effective. A system based on stars is insufficient and has to be revised.
Health Star Ratings have been established in Australia and New Zealand, and lessons learned from these two nations show that star-based FOPL not only misleads consumers but also fails to provide incentives for food firms to rework their recipes and create healthier food products.
Public health professionals have questioned the FSSAI’s choice to depend on the conclusions of a report from IIM Ahmedabad to support its selection of a star rating system.
On September 20, the FSSAI published a draft FOPL regulation. The draft, which is available for public comment until November 19th, has prompted new discussions among medical professionals, public health professionals, and consumer rights organizations.