Experts for Mandatory Front of Pack Warning Labels on Packaged Foods: On the occasion of World Consumer Rights Day, Citizens Awareness Group and New Delhi based Consumer VOICE organized a workshop on Front of Pack Labeling for Packaged Foods at Chandigarh Press Club. Experts felt there is a need for mandatory front of pack warning labeling on packaged foods which are the root cause of cardiovascular diseases in the country.
Cardiovascular diseases are 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.
Welcoming the guests, Surinder Verma of Citizens Awareness Group, said, “Consumption of ultra-processed foods and packaged foods is in the rise in the region 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, Nilanjana Bose 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 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”.
Dr Poonam Khanna, Associate Professor Nutrition, Department of Community Medicine and School of Public Health, PGIMER, Chandigarh while addressing the workshop emphasized that unhealthy diets are the largest modifiable risk factor for the increasing burden of (NCDs) like diabetes, hypertension, coronary heart disease, stroke and are responsible for 71% deaths worldwide. There is rising sale of ultra-processed foods in India, specifically in the section of beverages, chocolate, sugar and confectionary, readymade and convenience foods as well as salty snacks. Numerous advertisements are found on HFSS (High fat, salt and sugar) and soft drinks and beverages on TV, digital and print media and billions of rupees are being invested on these advertisements. This increased availability combined with aggressive and pervasive marketing are important determinants of shifts in consumer behaviour towards unhealthy diet.
Dr Khanna said, “Strengthening taxation and regulatory laws related to unhealthy foods; Implementing nutritional labelling to inform consumers; and improving nutritional literacy to empower the population are the important strategies in preventing NCDs. Front-of-package labelling (FOPL) is a visual guide that enables the consumers to make informed and healthier choices. It supports consumers to correctly, quickly, and easily identify products that contain excessive amounts of sugars, total fats, saturated fats, trans fats, and sodium. While a variety of FOP labelling approaches and designs are now in use worldwide, simple, negative warning labels that clearly identify unhealthy products thus far appear most effective for discouraging junk food and ultra-processed food choices.”
Sukhwinder Singh, In charge Food Safety Department, Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) also spoke on the occasion. He stressed on the need for proper labelling of such foods. He said now when consumer is also very aware of consumer laws, there is a need to inform them about the health hazards of processed packaged foods.
The workshop was inaugurated by Satya Pal Jain, the Additional Solicitor General of India who also spoke on the occasion.
Among those present on the occasion were Dr Seema Bijlani, Principal Moti Ram Sr Sec School, Anju Katyal, Councillor, Dr Deepak Jindal President Chandigarh Management Association, Shikha Nijhawan, and Superiya Goel among others.