New Delhi, Nov 10 (PTI) The government should take stringent policy measures such as increasing taxes on unhealthy food items and running robust public health campaigns to curb rising consumption of harmful processed foods in the country, think tank GTRI said on Friday.
The Global Trade Research Initiative (GTRI) also recommended setting up of legal limits on the amount of trans fats, sugar, and salt in processed foods; and enforcing strict food labelling laws that require clear, comprehensible nutritional information, helping consumers make informed choices about their food.
"In light of the Food and Agriculture Organization's State of Food and Agriculture (SOFA) report, GTRI recommends stringent policy measures, including taxation on unhealthy foods and robust public health campaigns, to curb India's rising consumption of harmful processed foods," it said.
The report, examining 154 countries, indicated that globally agri food systems contribute to hidden costs of at least USD 10 trillion annually.
For India, this translates into USD 450 billion each year, propelled by environmental damage from greenhouse emissions, land and water misuse, alongside health implications due to air pollution and diet-related diseases, it said.
It added that share of ultra-processed foods, fats, and sugars is increasing at alarming pace in India's USD 325-billion food processing sector.
"The country's battle with unhealthy diets, predominantly rich in ultra-processed foods, fats, and sugars, is a key contributor to these hidden costs," GTRI Co-Founder Ajay Srivastava said.
The report, he said, underscores that such dietary patterns lead to obesity and non-communicable diseases, which in turn incur substantial productivity losses.
With India's hidden costs due to unhealthy diets estimated at 7.2 per cent of GDP, the need for a dietary revolution is more urgent than ever.
It asked for "implementing higher taxes on ultra-processed foods, sugary drinks, and high-fat snacks to discourage consumption. This could be similar to the sugar tax imposed in some countries.
"Import duties may be raised to the highest allowed level to cut unhealthy imports," Srivastava said, adding there should be restrictions on the advertising of unhealthy foods, especially during children's television programming and on platforms predominantly used by younger audiences.
He added that the government faces a formidable challenge: to balance the scales of agri food systems by integrating environmental stewardship, health consciousness, and social equity into its policy framework.
"The FAO's findings serve as a wake-up call for India to safeguard its future against the tide of environmental degradation and the burgeoning health crisis linked to dietary choices," he said. PTI RR DR HVA