Content labelling norms flouted in 48 per cent packaged food items

Survey finds nearly three-fourth food items do not display salt and sodium content on packets

 
By Jyotsna Singh
Last Updated: Thursday 17 September 2015

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A recent study has found that 74 per cent of packaged food items in India do not display salt and sodium levels on their packets. Though salt and sodium levels are not required to be displayed as per the rules of the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), it is considered to be a norm internationally. The study has also found that the labelling of nutritional content in 48 per cent of packaged food items is not as per FSSAI rules. The companies found flouting these norms include Britannia, Nestle and PepsiCo India.

This startling data was revealed following a survey of 7,124 products, conducted in super markets and small general stores in Hyderabad. The survey was part of an ongoing project carried out by the George Institute for Global Health, Hyderabad, in collaboration with the Centre for Chronic Disease Control, Delhi.

“The project aims to generate evidence to ensure that steps such as sodium content being displayed on packaged food products becomes legally enforceable and also to provide evidence required to formulate a national salt reduction programme,” says Claire Johnson, who is leading the project.

According to FSSAI rules, labelling for amounts of calorie, protein, carbohydrate, fat and other contents for which a nutrition or health claim is made, is compulsory. But it does not mandate labelling for salt and sodium level for foods other than fruit squash.

Researchers and public health experts use minimum labelling requirements of Codex — the international body governing food labelling — for purposes of analysis of salt content. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), an individual is not supposed to consume more than 5 gm of salt and 2000 mg of sodium in a day.

“The preliminary findings of the study are a matter of great concern as consumers are eating progressively more processed foods generally containing higher levels of salt. This is not good for people in a country which is already projected to have an even larger NCD (non communicable diseases) burden in the coming future,’’ says Vivekanand Jha, executive director, George Institute for Global Health-India.

According to the survey, less than 10 per cent of the products of Britannia, ITC Foods, Nestle and Nilgiri’s mention sodium and salt content on packets. FSSAI rules are followed more than Codex guidelines. But still, less than 50 per cent products of four brands—Priya, Nilgiri’s, Heritage and Future Group—do not follow FSSAI rules (see graph). Overall, only 52 per cent of products were found to be following FSSAI’s labelling rules.

Reduction in salt consumption is becoming necessary in India, with the prevalence of hypertension increasing in urban as well as rural population. “We need to reduce salt intake among Indians. Hypertension is a disease in itself and a risk factor for other NCDs (non communicable disease) like heart diseases,” says Ashok Seth, director, Fortis Escorts Heart Institute, Delhi.

Percentage of food products of leading brands following national and international rules and guidelines:

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Notification of Food Safety and Standards (Packaging and Labelling) second amendment Regulations, 2013 (relating to transfatty acid, etc.)

Categorization of food products & development of food codes

Safety evaluation of certain food additives and contaminants

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