Consumer activists, government officials, doctors and consumers in general came together in Hotel Riviera, Guwahati today for a stakeholders’ consultation on front of pack labeling for packaged foods organized by Consumers’ Legal Protection Forum, Assam and New Delhi based Consumer VOICE.
The state of Assam and the country as a whole is burdened with NCDs and cardio vascular diseases. The crisis is directly linked to excessive consumption of processed food that are high in sugar, salt and saturated fats. India is also one of the fastest growing markets for ultra-processed packaged foods. Many of these pre-packaged foods are processed with high levels of added sugars, sodium, saturated fats, and refined carbohydrates. Research has found these nutrients of concern are connected to NCDs directly.
In order to tackle the growing burden of nutrition-related non-communicable diseases (NCDs), government-led strategies and policies have been introduced to improve the diet in the population. Among the variety of possible interventions, Front-Of-Pack nutrition labels (FOPLs) have received growing attention from public authorities, and are now considered one of the key policies to tackle Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs) like diabetes, hypertension, obesity, cardiovascular diseases etc. Globally and in India, this account for almost 67% of the deaths.
Participating in the workshop, Advocate Ajoy Hazarika, Secretary Consumers’ Legal Protection Forum, Assam said, “Consumption of ultra-processed foods and packaged foods is in the rise in Assam and irrespective of the socio economic background, it is putting the lives of our children and youth at peril. We can improve the situation by letting the consumers make the right choice with a simple warning label on the front of food packets for unhealthy foods. A front of pack warning label on packaged foods will help consumers identify the products that are high in salt, sugar and fat. FSSAI needs to accept WHO advisory standards set for India for limiting the Nutritional Profiles.
Also, in FOPL they have proposed HSR label design which star ratings formula which consumers can never understand. As consumer organization, working at the grass root level we need to emphasize that a simple Warning Label symbol is always better for consumer understanding“
While sensitizing the consumers with a presentation on FOPL and its importance, Rinki Sharma of Consumer VOICE, said that “Amidst the rising concerns over obesity and other non-communicable diseases ailments in our country, it becomes imperative for consumers to be a stakeholder in deciding what to eat and what is to be avoided. Front-of-Pack warning labeling represents a key component of a comprehensive strategy to promote healthier lives. It enables consumers to identify in a quick, clear and effective way, products high in salt, sugar and fats”
Noted Health Expert Dr.R.N.Mazumder, while emphasizing on the harmful effects of packaged foods and rise in NCD burden in the state and in India, stresses diets high in salt, sugar and fats is a major risk factor for these chronic and difficult to treat ailments. “This has to be approached scientifically and the best model to be adopted for a country like India is the WHO SEARO nutrition profile model which has detailed specification about how much salt, sugar and fats are allowed in each type of food item. It is a globally agreed model and we would do well to just adopt it and make a tangible impact on health outcomes.”
Anupam Gogoi, Food Analyst & Samiran Baruah, Designated Officer, Commissionate of Food Safety, Govt. of Assam while stressing the need for front of pack labels on packaged foods, has assured that “as state level custodians, we will ensure that food companies are abiding by the standards which will improve the health of consumers of the state. This should be based on global best practices. Since we are responsible for consumer’s health by monitoring the market place, we will always support consumers taking onus of taking precautions on consumption of unhealthy foods by looking at the label which is understood well with the symbol of HIGH IN salt , sugar or saturated fats. FOPL will work best when it is made mandatory immediately and comes under the purview of FSOs and applies to all packaged products, and the label is interpretative, simplistic and readily visible, guided by a strong nutrient profile model.”