India does not have standardised serving size of foods and it is not required to be labelled
Experts recommended clear guidelines on serving size and easy-to-understand front-of-pack labelling. Credit:Sanjevi Jayaraman / CSE
The politics surrounding food in India is highly commercialised with weak labelling regulations and low nutrition literacy adding to the rising burden of non-communicable diseases, experts deliberated at the 'Food Talk' workshop in New Delhi on Friday.
The workshop and public meeting on labelling, claims and advertisements was organised by non-profit Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).
Nutrition labelling is a description aimed at informing consumers of nutritional properties of food. It refers to the disclosures of main nutrients like salt, fat, sugar and energy content. It can also give a rating of whether a food has high or low content of a particular nutrient(s) and also warn consumer about foods that are high in an unhealthy nutrient.
Indian regulations are weak when it comes to labelling and food-promotion. It is not mandatory to disclose the amount of salt/sodium, added sugar, dietary fibre, vitamin and minerals unless the product makes a health claim.
Also, India does not have standardised serving size of foods and it is not required to be labelled. Serving size gives a sense of how much one may eat from a pack and quantity of nutrients that could be sourced from one such serving.
The country does not even have any guidelines on front-of-pack labelling which is an interpretive form of nutrition labelling. Front-of-pack labelling includes either text or symbol or both. It helps in easy understanding of nutrition content.
"We need a clear recommended daily allowance, clear guidelines on serving size and easy-to-understand front-of-pack labelling," said Sunita Narain, director general, CSE. “The lack of guidelines makes it easier for companies to complicate labels,” Narain added.
Recently, a penalty of Rs 1.1 million has been imposed on Yoga guru Ramdev's company, Patanjali Ayurved Limited, by a court for misbranding and misrepresentation of its products.
Rising burden of diseases
Talking of the rising burden of non-communicable diseases, experts said the growing obesity, especially among children and adolescent, was a cause of concern.
"We are heading towards ‘globesity’ which means we are contributing to global obesity. About 10 per cent of Indian population and 5-15 per cent of children and adolescent are overweight or obese," Subba Rao M Gavaravarapu, Scientist-E, National Institute of Nutrition, said.
“Junk food advertisements adversely affect children”, said Anoop Misra, executive chairman, FORTIS-C-DOC Centre of Excellence for Diabetes, Metabolic diseases and Endocrinology. Quoting a study conducted by his team, he said that over 70 per cent children were not ready to cut down the intake of junk food while 50.6 per cent considered home-made food boring.
The experts concluded that working on nutrition literacy was an important step and stringent regulations for finished products were required.
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