World Food Safety Day: India must regulate foods with excess fat, sugar and salt

Overindulgence into these causes cardiovascular diseases, hypertension and obesity

By Sonal Dhingra
Published: Friday 07 June 2019
World Food Safety Day: India must regulate foods with excess fat, sugar and salt
Image: Getty Images Image: Getty Images

As United Nations celebrates the first World Food Safety Day on June 7, 2019, which aims to strengthen efforts to ensure the food we eat is safe, it’s important to see to it that foods with excess fat, sugar and salt are better regulated.

"Issues of pesticides, antibiotics and other chemicals in food are very critical. So is the aggressive promotion of packaged foods which are high in salt, sugar or fat,” said Amit Khurana, programme director, food safety and toxins, Centre for Science and Environment, a New Delhi-based non-profit.

Excess consumption of fat, sugar and salt increases the threat of non-communicable diseases more than infectious, maternal, neonatal and nutritional diseases combined (61.8 per cent in 2016 from 39.9 per cent in 1990).

Emerging hypertension is strongly associated with high Body Mass Index (BMI) and salt intake. In India, 41 per cent of women and 58 per cent men have hypertension or are pre-hypertensive. Cardiovascular diseases contributed 28.1 per cent to the total deaths in 2016 (almost double than 1990) and obesity/overweight levels are 31 per cent in urban areas.

Is it possible to keep a check on our salt, sugar or fat consumption if the labels of the packaged food we consume do not mention it?

Currently, declaring amount the of salt/sodium, added sugar, dietary fibre, saturated fatty acids, and trans-fatty acids is not mandatory unless a claim is made. The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India’s (FSSAI) draft labelling regulations (April 2018) does talk about declaration of salt labelling and front-of-pack (FOP) labelling.

“Regulators must also ensure that consumers are well informed to make the right choice. The draft labelling law must be notified by the FSSAI soon. We no longer should remain a country, where hypertension and heart diseases are household phenomenon, but salt is not required to be disclosed in packaged foods,” Khurana added. 

The FOP labels can be extremely useful in taking informed decisions before buying a product, especially if these are image-based with limited text. Countries like Chile and Finland have already implemented FOP warning labels for fat, sugar and salt to contain their growing obesity and hypertension levels. Many other countries are working towards it.

Besides, there is a need to restrict junk food availability in schools by enforcing FSSAI guidelines, which are still recommendatory in nature since February 2018.

Many states such as Punjab, Manipur, Odisha, Chandigarh, Madhya Pradesh, and very recently Maharashtra issued advisories to limit junk foods in schools and other education institutes, but compliance cannot be assured unless the guidelines are enforced.

Another demon that needs to be hit hard is trans-fat. The World Health Organization (WHO) targets to eliminate trans-fats by 2023 and India also adopted mandatory trans-fatty acids limits.

The existing regulation says maximum limit of trans fat should not be more than 5 per cent by weight in interesterified vegetable fat/oil, bakery and industrial margarine, vanaspati and bakery shortening.

Also, the WHO also rates India's TFA limits policy as “less restrictive”. To contain the looming threat of non-communicable diseases through trans fats, it must be eliminated from the food supply.

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