India does not have standardised serving size of foods and it is not required to be labelled
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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