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Junk food in schools: high court asks FSSAI to frame rules

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Date:Jan 11, 2012

Food standards authority says it has invited proposals for developing guidelines for making available quality food in school canteens

The Delhi High Court has given the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) six months to draft guidelines for drafting rules to ban junk food in and around schools. The two- judge bench gave the order on January 11.

The court passed the order on a public interest petition by Uday Foundation, a non-profit in Delhi, which alleges that junk food damages the health and mental growth of children. The petition was filed in 2010. The foundation works on child nutrition and health; it has sought a ban on sale of junk food in schools and within 500 metre of educational institutions.

Initially, the respondents to the petition were Delhi government and FSSAI, but there have been attempts by others with business interest to join the respondents. They include the All India Food Processors’ Association of India, the All India Restaurant Association of India, the Association of Street Vendors and the Halwai Association. The last three pleaded they be associated with the case during the January 11 hearing. But the bench reprimanded these three associations and said since they wanted to be impleaded in self-interest and not in public interest their plea would not be heard. 

The All India Food Processors’ Association (AIFPA), however, was allowed to become a party to the case on November 2 last year. This nodal agency of the food processing industry in India, represented by senior counsel Mukul Rohatgi, wanted its point of view to be considered by the court since it did not want to be inadvertently dragged into the ban. This is because the petitioners in the case have failed to specify what kind of food items should be included in junk food or fast food. The association represents those involved in the processing of fruits and vegetables, meat and fish, milk and milk products and makers of biscuits and confectionary products.

Centre files action taken report

The Centre was supposed to file an action taken report by December 2011, which they did not on account of lack of time. They filed their report on January 10. The affidavit states that though taking a decision on banning junk food in schools is an administrative decision of those who run them the Union health ministry has taken a few initiatives.

For instance, the ministry has already requested the chief ministers and the health ministers of states and the Union ministry of human resources development (HRD) to take steps to ban, restrict availability or withdraw such food items from canteens of schools and educational institutions.

The affidavit also pointed out that a circular has been issued to government-run navodaya vidyalayas (schools) by the navodaya vidyalaya committee, suggesting daily menu for hostels. The circular, issued on July 13, 2011, very clearly stated that no junk food was to be served in the hostels. The committee is an autonomous body under HRD ministry.  

The affidavit added that circulars have been issued in Kendriya Vidyalayas also from time to time about the problems associated with junk food and promoting good food eating habits. FSSAI stated that the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) has also written to all the schools affiliated to the board, highlighting the concern over junk food and adulteration.

FSSAI elaborated on its part, in the affidavit, that it was undertaking a project for developing guidelines for making available quality and safe food in schools and has invited proposals from experienced agencies, organizations and institutions to this end.

After completion of this process, FSSAI will be in a position to frame guidelines for making available healthy food in school canteens. At the moment the Food Safety and Standards Act does not define any food as junk food or fast food. All food that has been categorised as junk food falls under the category of proprietary food.

The next hearing is scheduled for July 25.

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