Recent FSSAI regulations crucial to cut junk food

Shield for school students; better labelling on packaging

By Sonal Dhingra
Published: Saturday 09 January 2021

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) notified some much-awaited and crucial regulations to curb consumption of foods high in fat, sugar, salt and trans fat over the last few months. Delhi-based non-profit Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) had been pushing for the same for many years now.

These regulations are pivotal for the food environment of the country and can play a role in preventing non-communicable diseases.

In September 2020, the Food Safety and Standards (Safe food and balanced diets for children in school) Regulations were notified. These restrict the availability of foods high in saturated fat, trans fat, added sugar or sodium in or within a fifty-metre of schools. For the first time, there will be a law to regulate availability of junk foods in and around schools.

School canteens and nearby shops are a common source of junk food for children. Now, 75-80 per cent of the school canteen menu would have to comprise of fresh foods that are not high in salt, sugar, fat such as cereal, millets and cooked snacks with a cereal or pulse base, fresh fruits and vegetables and milk and milk products.

The remaining 20-25 per cent are foods that should be eaten occasionally, in small portion sizes and reduced frequency. These include foods such as ice creams, biscuits, packaged beverages such as soups, juices and white bread.

The Food Safety and Standards (Labelling and Display) Regulations, 2020 was also notified in December 2020. These developments are vital for packaged food labelling with provision for mandatory declaration of salt which was not there in the previous law.

We will now also know the content of salt and other nutrients in each serve as the serving size would be provided on the package. In addition, we will also be able to understand how much of our recommended daily intake would get exhausted on consuming the serve. 

Declaration of added sugar has been made mandatory. This will help consumers understand the nature and quantity of sugars in the product and they can differentiate between added and natural sugars.

According to the previous law, manufacturers have to reveal cholesterol levels in food only when a related claim is made. But declaring cholesterol (mg) on packaging has been made mandatory now. 

From January 2022, customers will also get to read the calorific value of food on menu cards or boards or booklets at food service establishments that have a central licence or outlets at 10 or more locations. 

These changes are good steps in right direction.

The need for strengthening the nutritional information was realised by an expert committee of which CSE was a part, along with doctors, nutritionists, public health experts, representatives of civil society and industries in 2014. The committee had also recommended labelling of calories, sugar, fat, saturated fat and salt on the front of pack (FoP) of foods.

CSE had further pushed for strengthening the nutritional panel and also highlighted importance of FoP label that was proposed to be introduced on the packaged foods as per the draft labelling and display regulations last year through a study. Our analysis demonstrated how the popular packaged foods and fast foods that we consume would fare when FoP is introduced. 

This label, as proposed in the draft regulations in 2018 and 2019, would have resulted in the declaration of key nutrients, excess of which is bad for health such as salt, saturated fat, trans fat and added sugar, on the front of pack. It also had provision of highlighting in red the nutrients that exceeded the provided threshold.

However, the food regulator decided to rework the thresholds and the way the design of the labels. Reportedly, FoP labelling and general labelling regulations were delinked. But having FoP label would help consumers understand the product to make an informed decision on consumption.

In addition, having ‘salt’ instead of ‘sodium’ on the nutritional information of the package would have helped consumer understanding since 'salt' is a common term that does not require scientific understanding.

A few days back, FSSAI capped the amount of trans fatty acids (TFA) in oils and fats at 3% by weight for 2021 and 2% by 2022 from the current permissible limit of 5%. This will be carried out through an amendment to the Food Safety and Standards (Prohibition and Restriction on Sales) Regulations.

This is an important milestone since the World Health Organisation (WHO) has called for global elimination of trans fat by 2023.

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