Expert committee to look into junk food in schools

Delhi High Court approves proposal following dissension over guidelines proposed by food safety authority

By Jyotsna Singh
Published: Thursday 05 September 2013

Upwardly mobile (Credit: SAMRAT MUKHERJEE)An expert committee comprising scientists, government representatives and members of Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) will soon be formed to look into the matter of junk food being served in school canteens. The guidelines prepared by the panel, to be submitted by December 4, this year will be the final guidelines for schools. Activists fighting against junk food are calling it a landmark in their struggle.

The Union government, which is a party to the Delhi High Court case filed by advocacy group Uday Foundation apprised the court about the committee when the matter came for hearing on September 4. The court readily agreed. Last month, FSSAI had submitted its proposed guidelines to the high court which were put in public domain for comments before being finalised. The guidelines received sharp criticism for being toothless and not recommending ban on junk and unhealthy food in schools. When the matter was heard on Wednesday, seeing no consensus over FSSAI guidelines, the court gave nod to the committee. The committee would have four members from FSSAI, and one each from the National Institute of Nutrition, Union human resources development ministry and Union health ministry.

FSSAI guidelines full of homilies

The FSSAI guidelines proved contentious because they emphasised more on good practices to be adopted by schools and students rather than bringing about legislation to ban unhealthy food for school children. The first few chapters explained about nutrients and nutritional value of healthy and hygienic food. The rest of the chapters advised schools on how to include good practices in eating. It suggested 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 advised schools to promote hand-wash before every meal.

The activists said this amounting to cheating as the guidelines did not propose any regulatory framework. There was no provision to see if the advice is followed by the schools and what measures are to be taken if they falter.

With wider representation in expert committee, activists feel there are better chances of junk food getting banned from school canteens and junk food outlets being within a reasonable distance from schools.


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