Warning labels, not star rating, can change consumption pattern of packaged food: Experts

With the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India set to implement front-of-pack labelling to discourage consumers from buying packaged foods high in sugar, salt, and fats, public health experts disagree with the country’s apex food standards regulator on the method for doing so.

The FSSAI has proposed implementing a health star rating system where the healthier options receive a higher star rating, similar to the star rating of electronics based on their energy efficiency.

The system was chosen out of five methods based on an FSSAI-commissioned survey conducted by the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad of 20,500 consumers.

The health experts, however, said that a warning label where a symbol is displayed on the front of food packs high in salt, sugar, fat, and various preservatives , was found to be second-best as per the IIM survey. The experts have also questioned the survey for ranking the star rating system as the best.

A position paper by organisations such as Public Health Foundation of India, Centre for Science and Environment, and Indian Academy of Paediatrics states that there was a change in consumption pattern in several Latin American countries that implemented such warning labels. It said that a meta-analysis of 100 studies published last year indicated that nutrient warning labels are more effective.

This comes against the backdrop of non-communicable diseases accounting for 60% of all deaths in the country.

“The (IIM-A) survey is being analysed by several experts at the moment, but the study is unreliable…,” said Dr K Srinath Reddy, president, PHFI.

Arun Singhal, FSSAI CEO said, “…The draft guidelines, once ready, will be put up in the public domain and everyone can send in their comments, which will be considered…”

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