Consumer organisations in Assam have urged authorities to make "front-of-pack" warning labels on packaged foods mandatory for safeguarding consumers' health.
Front-of-Pack warning labelling 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.
A stakeholders' consultation in this regard was held recently in Guwahati where consumer activists, government officials, doctors and consumers took part. The consultation was organised by the Consumers' Legal Protection Forum, Assam and New Delhi-based Consumer VOICE.
Participating in the consultation, Ajoy Hazarika, secretary of Consumers' Legal Protection Forum, Assam said, "Consumption of ultra-processed foods and packaged foods is on 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 (front of pack labels) they have proposed HSR (health star ratings) label design which consumers can never understand. As consumer organisations working at the grass-root level we need to emphasise that a simple warning label symbol is always better for consumer understanding," Hazarika said.
While sensitizing the consumers with a presentation on FOPL and its importance, Rinki Sharma of Consumer VOICE said, "Amidst the rising concerns over obesity and other non-communicable diseases and ailments in our country, it becomes imperative for consumers to be a stakeholder in deciding what to eat and what is to be avoided.
India is also one of the fastest-growing markets for ultra-processed packaged foodsHealth expert Dr R.N. Mazumder, while emphasising the harmful effects of packaged foods and the rise in non-communicable diseases in the state and in India, said that diets high in salt, sugar and fats are a major risk factor for 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 (South East Asia Region Organisation) nutrition profile model which has detailed specifications 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," Dr Mazumder said.
Officials from the food safety department, while speaking on the issue, underlined the need for the front of pack labels on packaged foods.
Assam, or for that matter, the country is burdened with non-communicable and cardiovascular diseases.
The crisis is directly linked to excessive consumption of processed food that is 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 sugar, 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, government-led strategies and policies have been introduced to improve the diet in the population.