FSSAI draft guidelines do not propose ban on junk food in schools
The nodal agency for food safety in the country, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), has submitted to the Delhi High Court the draft guidelines for discouraging children from eating junk food and developing healthy habits. The guidelines were submitted on August 5 following a court direction on a public interest petition by Uday Foundation, seeking ban on junk food in schools. The stakeholders have been asked to send in their comments within two weeks from August 5 after which FSSAI is expected to submit the final guidelines.
The guidelines, titled "Guidelines for Making Available Quality and Safe Food in Schools", fall short of expectations and demands of the public health experts who have been vigorously campaigning against unhealthy food in school canteens. The guidelines devote some chapters to explaining nutrients and nutritional value of healthy and hygienic food. The rest of the chapters advise schools on how to include good practice in eating. It suggests that schools should promote consumption of water among children because "water is the most important nutrient of all and assists in the upkeep of our health". It also advises schools to promote hand-wash before every meal.
The high Court had asked the government in January to submit draft guidelines in six months; the deadline expired on July 24. The government asked for 10 more days as the guidelines were still under preparation.
The guidelines are more of an advisory rather than a document meant to address the health hazards posed by junk food. The guidelines do not mention about banning junk food though the document itself defines junk food as "those containing little or no proteins, vitamins or minerals but are rich in salt, sugar, fats and are high in energy (calories)." The guidelines have also termed unhealthy/junk food (chocolates, potato chips), fast food (burger, noodles), instant food (instant noodles, soup, cornflakes) and street food (samosa, wada, chat items) separately, thus bringing very few items under the category of junk. Items like burgers, pizzas and sandwiches, proven for their unhealthy content by various studies, have been put under fast food category.
The guidelines do not suggest any replacements to unhealthy food. They focus more on improving hygiene and good practices among students, rather than putting responsibility on the canteens to serve healthy food. They suggest that healthy practices should be promoted through social media platforms like facebook and twitter. They have also suggested the Ministry of Information and Broadcast should promote healthy practices among children.
Silent on regulations
The guidelines are also silent on the matter of regulation. They say, "The rationale of this guideline is to provide a set of model standard operating procedures to schools in order to achieve a high degree of compliance with the food regulations as well as attaining higher standards of food safety through adoption of good practices."
However, whether the schools comply to the suggested model and ensure that students have healthy food, has not been addressed in the proposed document. The guidelines also do not suggest any penalty and follow up of the same in case schools fail to promote healthy practices.
The guidelines were framed based on a survey conducted by a private market research company, AC Nielsen, covering six zones and 12 states. The school profiles included state as well as Central government, government aided, private, private aided, local body and tribal schools.
Junk food PIL
February, 2010: Uday foundation files public interest petition
January, 2013: Delhi High Court passes order, asking FSSAI to prepare guidelines on junk food in six months
July 24, 2013: Deadline for preparing guidelines expires
August 5, 2013: Draft guidelines submitted to court
August 20, 2013: Last date for stakeholders to submit responses
September 4, 2013: Last date for submission of final guidelines to court