Delhi (India): The Food Safety and Standards Authority (FSSAI) of India will soon come out with comprehensive guidelines on healthy food for all including children and health star rating on packaged food and beverage, according to minutes of the meeting held in February on this issue.
The FSSAI had set up a panel of experts to examine comprehensive food safety standards and had asked the Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad to conduct a survey on what sort of front of the pack labelling (FOPL) people would prefer.
A committee of experts have recommended threshold levels for two categories --- food and beverages -- to declare them healthy. The levels recommended are for nutrients such as salt, total sugar, iodine, sodium, saturated fat and saturated fatty acids in 100 grams of food.
The committee has recommended threshold levels for 18 food categories with 25 different thresholds covering around 115 sub-categories, a government official said. He added that a food product is declared “excessive” if the nutrient is more than the threshold level. For instance, if saturated fatty acids are more than 10% the product will be declared excessive for fatty acids.
The official also said that the FSSAI would recommend that the health advisory on packaged food products should be readable and clearly state how many calories it provides to a person and whether it is over the prescribed limit.
Along with this, the FSSAI guidelines are set to have labelling to tell people the impact of the food product on one’s health. For this, the authority is likely to recommend a health star rating system, in which the product poor on health impacts would get a lower star than the ones with positive health impacts.
“The incentive on the star rating system will have a positive health impact. Five star rated products would mean they are food for health and single star would mean that they have negative or adverse impact on one’s health,” the official said.
The health star rating is being decided on the basis of IIM-A study.
The randomised controlled trial (RCT) was carried out on a nationally representative sample of 20,564 respondents covering all major states of India, officials said. Of them, 62% were contacted physically and the remaining through video calls. The sample size covers all groups and genders.
The sample size was randomized to one of the six groups, i.e. No FOPL, Health Star Rating, Nutriscore, Warning label, Multiple traffic lights and Monochrome GDA. These were the six warning systems suggested by FSSAI to IIM-A for conducting the survey.
The IIM-A told FSSAI that most of the respondents preferred a health star rating over other models for “achieving a careful combination of the dual objectives of ease of identification and understanding; and change of purchase behaviour” of the consumers in large parts of society.
At an FSSAI meeting with stakeholders, it was decided that as FOPL is being considered for the first time, thresholds may be initially fixed as proposed and reviewed later based upon experience over the initial years of implementation.â¨
However, independent experts on the panel on FOPL such as George Cheriyan from CUTS International and Amit Khurana from the Centre for Science and Environment opposed the recommendation for use of health star rating claiming that these rating are taking with “positive connotation” and may not lead to low consumption of low star rated products.
They asked FSSAI to consider health warning FOPL where a person is clearly told whether a product is healthy or not over a health star rating. They wanted the FSSAI to wait for some more time to decide on the FOPL as more studies were expected to be submitted on the issue soon.