Consumer Organisations question media reports on India to have ‘Health Star Rating’

Nuffoods Spectrum, March 10, 2022

Consumer Organisations are questioning the media reports stating- India soon to have Health Star Label on packaged foods as regulated by FSSAI

The major consumer organisations in the country are appalled by the recent news reports that Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) is introducing a star rating system for packaged foods in India.

This is especially when the group of stakeholders identified and headed by the regulator itself on Front of Package Labelling are yet to come to any final conclusion and the discussions are still on-going with disagreements still remain to be addressed.

George Cheriyan, Director, CUTS International, and a member of Food Authority (FSSAI) as a special invitee, while strongly objecting to the press report, wondered how the media got fed with the discussions that happened in the stakeholder consultation held on Feb. 15, 2022, particularly when FSSAI strictly advised all its stakeholders not to divulge meeting details with the outsiders.

Elaborating the timeline of formation of any regulation by FSSAI, George states that once a final decision is taken during stakeholder consultation it still needs to be forwarded to the Scientific Panel, who then makes recommendation. This later is passed on to the Food Authority and a draft is made which is sent to the Ministry of Health for approval.

In the course of approval in the ministry, legal vetting is also done internally. After approval, the draft is notified for public comments. These comments and suggestions received are forwarded to the Scientific Panel again. The panel then gives its response on the received comments, about which one are accepted or rejected and with reasoning. Subsequently, the process again follows the same route for final approval. After the approval and legal vetting from ministry of health and law, the draft, finally, is published in the gazette.

Ashim Sanyal, Chief Operating Officer and Secretary, Consumer VOICE and a member of the Central Advisory Committee of FSSAI, highlighted how the discussion in the FSSAI stakeholder meeting with regard to bestowing almost five year long period for the industries to shift from voluntary label to mandatory label sounds ridiculous. Nowhere in the world could one hear of granting food companies such a long time period for making the required shift, especially when cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes and other NCDs are taking the lives of the Indian consumers. A staggered mandatory label with a reasonable time gap, like FSSAI did in the case of transfat, is the ideal solution if the primary objective of implementing FoPL is for the larger welfare of the consumers.

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