Explained | What is the food package star rating debate being discussed by the FSSAI?


What decision did the FSSAI make? Why is there resistance to the health star rating system?

What decision did the FSSAI make? Why is there resistance to the health star rating system?

The story so far: The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) is expected to issue draft regulations for front-of-package labels to inform consumers whether a product is high in salt, sugar and fat. It is expected to propose a system of assigning stars to a product, which has drawn the ire of public health experts and consumer organizations who say it will be misleading and ineffective. Health experts are calling for the FSSAI to instead recommend the “Warning Label” system, which has been shown to have changed consumer behavior.

Why do we need front of pack labeling?

In the past three decades, the disease patterns in the country have shifted. While mortality from communicable, maternal, neonatal and diet-related diseases has declined and India’s population is living longer, noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) and injuries are increasingly contributing to the overall burden of disease. In 2016, NCDs accounted for 55% of premature deaths and disabilities in the country. Indians also have a propensity for excess fat in the abdominal and abdomen areas, leading to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. According to the National Family Health Survey-5 (2019-2021), 47.7% of men and 56.7% of women have a high hip-to-hip ratio. Increased consumption of processed and junk foods has also led to a double burden of undernutrition and overnutrition in children. According to an analysis by the Comprehensive National Nutrition Survey in India (2016-2018), more than half of children and adolescents, whether malnourished or of normal weight, are at risk of cardiovascular disease.

Reducing sugar, salt, and fat are among the best ways to prevent and control NCDs. While the FSSAI mandates mandatory disclosure of nutritional information on food packaging, this is on the back of a package and is difficult to interpret.

What decision did the FSSAI make?

At a stakeholder meeting on February 15, 2022, three key decisions were made on the content of the draft front-of-pack labeling regulations. These included thresholds for determining whether a food was high in sugar, salt and fat; that implementation will be voluntary for a period of four years before becoming mandatory; and that the health star rating system based on a study commissioned by the FSSAI and conducted by IIM-Ahmedabad would be used as a label. The food industry agreed with the FSSAI’s decision on the issue of mandatory implementation and use of assessments and asked for more time to address the issue of thresholds. The World Health Organization representative said the thresholds were lenient, while consumer organizations opposed all three decisions.

The biggest controversy concerns the use of a health star rating system, which uses 1/2 star to five stars to indicate a product’s overall nutritional profile. Despite objections, FSSAI CEO Arun Singhal said Peppystores that he stands by the IIM-A study because it is based on a survey of 20,500 people. He said stakeholders could share their comments once the draft regulations were released. The FSSAI Scientific Panel will then take this into account.

Why is there resistance to the rating system?

In a health star rating system introduced in Australia and New Zealand in 2014, a product is assigned a specific number of stars using a calculator to rate positive (e.g. fruit, nut, protein, etc.) and risk nutrients in foods (calories, saturated fat, total sugars, sodium). Scientists have said that such a system misrepresents nutritional science and the presence of fruit in a fruit drink juice does not offset the effects of added sugar. Experts say there is no evidence to date that the rating system influences consumer behavior. The stars can also result in a “health ring” due to their positive connotation, making it harder to identify harmful products. Over 40 global experts have also called the IIM Ahmedabad study flawed in design and interpretation.

There are many other labeling systems in the world, such as B. “Warning labels” in Chile (which uses black octagonal or stop symbols) and Israel (a red label) for products high in sugar, salt and fat. The ‘Nutri-Score’ used in France is a color scale from A to E, and the Multiple Traffic Light (MTL) used in the UK and other countries shows red (high), yellow (medium) or green (low). ) lights up to show the risk factors. Global studies have shown that a warning label is the only format that has a positive impact on food and beverage shopping, helping the industry e.g. For example, in Chile, forcing them to reformulate their products to remove large amounts of sugar and salt.

What happens next?

The FSSAI is expected to make its draft front of pack regulations public and solicit comments from all stakeholders. The FSSAI Scientific Panel, composed of independent experts, will review these comments and make a proposal. It will then be submitted to a scientific committee, the FSSAI and the Ministry of Health before the regulations are presented to Parliament.

The front-of-pack labeling debate has once again raised questions about the industry’s influence on food regulation. According to George Cheriyan, director of CUTS International and a member of FSSAI as a special invitee, stakeholder meetings are dominated by industry. Many others have also called for the need to “isolate” policymaking from industry.

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