Consumer Unity & Trust Society (CUTS International) a leading international consumer organisation, along with global health experts, is urging FSSAI to introduce mandatory front-of-package warning labels on foods and beverages to curb the growing epidemic of heart disease and cardiovascular deaths, the leading cause of death in India. Excessive consumption of foods and beverages high in trans-fat, sodium, added sugar and saturated fat is a major cause of heart disease, stroke and premature death in India and around the world. Front-of-package warning labels increase consumer knowledge about healthy food choices and help to decrease the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
“Consumers need to have the right information to be able to make informed decisions about what they eat,” said Dr. Barry Popkin, W.R. Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor of Nutrition at the University of North Carolina. “Mandatory front-of-package warning labels are considered by governments around the globe as an effective and evidence-based way to improve diets.” Dr. Popkin is one of 28 international health and nutrition experts who have jointly submitted suggestions on the proposed requirements for the labelling of pre-packaged foods on the draft ‘ Food Safety and Standards (Labeling and Display) Regulations, 2018’ of the Food Safety and Standard Authority of India (FSSAI) .
FSSAI, which regulates the food safety in India is currently in the process of revising and receiving comments on the draft ‘Food Safety and Standard (Labeling & Display) Regulation, 2018’ in line with the global call by World Health Organization (WHO). WHO calls to eliminate the use of trans-fats by 2023, as the industrially produced edible oil leads to over 10 million premature deaths every year. FSSAI has committed to decreasing the amount of trans-fat in oils from the current permitted level of 5% to 2% by 2022.
The group of experts (Walter Willett, MD, DrPH, Professor of Nutrition and Epidemiology, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and Karen Hofman, Professor at the University of the Witwatersrand’s School of Public Health, South Africa) praised FSSAI for proposing to clearly mark vegetarian food and have warnings labels for foods high in sodium and fat. The experts called for further changes to strengthen the regulations which include:
- Mandatory front-of-package labels for foods and drinks that contain high amounts of trans-fats and saturated fats – not just total fats, but sodium and sugar also. As FSSAI has committed to decreasing the amount of trans fat in oils from the current permitted level of 5% to 2% by 2022, the group has recommended that the amount of trans-fats & saturated fat in a food product should be added to it labels. And there should be warning labels for products containing any artificial trans-fat.
- Front-of-package label designs which are clear and impactful in increasing awareness and shifting food eating norms. At present, manufacturers are using varying formats of complicated nutrition labels that are not consumer friendly. While suggesting these, experts cited examples of Chile’s approach to warning labels that is currently considered the gold standard among health and nutrition experts, and of several countries including Israel and Uruguay that have adopted similar approaches or are in the process of doing so.
- Removal of Guidelines for Daily Amounts (GDAs) and serving sizes from nutrition panels/label. Research shows that GDAs are misleading and do not help consumers make healthy food choices. The group has suggested replacing the base by better alternatives like kilocalorie/ grams of fats per 100 grams/ milliliter of food or beverage product.
Similar recommendations are under consideration in countries around the world, including Brazil, Mexico, France and Thailand.
“This is an opportunity for India to join a growing list of countries that have taken decisive steps to prevent disease and save lives,” said George Cheriyan, Director of CUTS International. “We encourage FSSAI to seize this moment and upgrade food labeling policies to reflect international best practices for a healthy India.”
FSSAI is committed to decreasing the amount of trans-fat in oils from the current permitted level of 5% to 2% by 2022. Even the current permitted trans-fat level of 5 percent is considered very high despite being reduced from 10 percent in 2015. Trans-fats are leading cause of cardio vascular diseases (CVD), Alzheimer’s disease, obesity, infertility, cancers, diabetes etc. Cardiovascular diseases (CVD) and heart diseases kill more than one in five people in India today. According to the Global Burden of Diseases Report 2017, CVDs kill 1.7 million Indians every year. The premature mortality (years of life lost because of CVD) in India increased to 37 million in 2010 from 23.2 million in 1990 (by 59 percent). WHO calls to eliminate the use of trans-fats by 2023, as the industrially produced edible oil leads to over 10 million premature deaths every year. WHO last month unveiled the REPLACE action package for the elimination of industrially produced trans-fat from the global food supply.
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