Food industry challenges validity of panel for junk food sale in schools

Health activists say court petition an attempt to scuttle process of ensuring healthy food in schools

By Jyotsna Singh
Published: Saturday 05 October 2013

The All India Food Processors’ Association ( AIFPA ) has filed a review petition in the Delhi High Court, claiming that the committee set up by the Central government to look into junk food sale in schools is not legal. The first hearing of the petition was held on Friday. Date for next hearing is October 25, when a decision on the validity of the committee is expected.

The issue is being seen as of great importance because the industrialists' lobby promoting packaged food and aerated beverages is at loggerheads with activists campaigning for ban on junk food in school canteens and within 50 metre radius of the institutions. The nodal agency for food safety in the country, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), had submitted guidelines to the court on August 4 but these came under attack from various quarters as they lacked substance.

The expert committee was formed by the Ministry of Health and family Welfare of the Central government following a high court order of September 4 in Uday Foundation v/s Union of India. The 14-member committee includes government officials, eminent doctors, scientists and representatives from the industry and health activists.

In the first meeting of the committee, held on September 25, representatives of AIFPA and National Restaurants of India (NRAI) did not appear. Instead, the two bodies went to the court questioning the validity of the committee. It is to be noted that companies like Nestle, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola and Dabur are part of AIFPA. A large sum of their finances is at stake in this case.

Abhishek Manu Singhvi, lawyer of the industry, argued before the court that the committee has not been formed according to the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2005. Under the section 13 of the Act, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India has the authority to form committees related to matters of food and beverage. The section says, "The Food Authority shall establish scientific panels, which
shall consist of independent scientific experts. The Scientific Panel shall invite the relevant industry and consumer representatives in its deliberations." The FSSAI can establish as many panels as it considers necessary.

The present committee, however, has been formed by the health ministry.

Health activists emphasised that this is nothing but an attempt by the interested bodies to scuttle the process of ensuring healthy food in schools. They said that the industry wants to limit the matter within the ambit of the FSSAI, while the health ministry wants to take matter in its own hands. The Central government is allowed to form committees for matters it deems fit.

"Everyone knows that the committee is not illegal or invalid. But attempts are being made to try to dissolve it because of the strong presence of well-meaning people who do not side with the industry," said an activist.

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