New Delhi, March 15, 2019: At a day-long National Conclave on Foodorganized here today by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), the New Delhi-based research and advocacy think tank, about 50 experts from across the country deliberated upon pressing issues related to the way food is produced and promoted in the country and its linkages with the growing burden of diseases. In her opening remarks, Sunita Narain, director general of CSE, said: “Food is linked to nutrition, nature and livelihoods. We need strong regulations which can stop the ingress of chemicals, pesticides and antibiotics into our food andprotect us against ‘bad foods’high in fat, sugar or salt.”
The Conclave focused on two broad themes -- sustainable food production and regulating bad food. Under these, panels of experts deliberated upon topics ranging from pesticide management, organic farming and use of antibiotics in food to labelling, claims and advertisements of ultra-processed packaged foods (junk foods).The deliberations also covered food-related policies in view of the crisis of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and non-communicable diseases (NCDs).Apart from policymakers and regulators from the Centre and some states, the delegates and panelists represented human health, animal health, agriculture, nutrition, research and academia, food industry, farmers and civil society.
Setting the context to the discussions, Chandra Bhushan, deputy director general at CSE, emphasised that “with the growing NCDs and AMR crisis in the country, it is time that we made policies that enable big transition towards sustainable food production practices, with the emphasis on pesticidesmanagement, organic farming and controlling antibiotic use in food animals.”
Rajeev Sadanandan, additional chief secretary at the department of health and family welfare, Kerala,who is spearheading the efforts to contain AMR in the state,elaborated on how the ‘Kerala Antimicrobial Resistance Strategic Acton Plan’ could be a model for other states in the country.CSE has consistentlyadvocated a complete stop to the use of antibiotics as growth promoters in food animals. Said Amit Khurana, programme director of CSE’s food and toxins unit: “Animal use of antibiotics which are considered critically important for humans should be phased out.All states should develop and implement their own action plans on AMR.”
At the Conclave, experts on pesticides emphasised on the need for a strong pesticides management bill that would ensure effective pesticide management across registration, sale and use. “India must immediately phase out the Class I pesticidesthat it continues to use - these are extremely hazardous and toxic pesticides,” said Bhushan, who was moderating this discussion.
The session on organic farming concentrated on a discussion around the need for making ‘organic farming’ a mass movement - something that CSE has always called for-through bigger budgets and large-scale programmes to support conversion of farmers. In fact, the case of Andhra Pradesh’s ‘Climate Resilient Zero Budget Natural Farming programme’, which has reportedly reduced farmers’ dependence on agro-chemicals, found a mention at the Conclave.
Large gaps were identified on the issue of regulating ‘bad foods’-ultra-processed foods which are high in fats, sugar or salt (HFSS). These includedlabelling and claims of bad foods, their advertisements in broadcasting and new-age digital media, as well as their availability in schools. Bhushan pointed out that the draft regulations put out by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) on labelling and availability in schoolsare yet to be notified. “The FSSAI must not continue to sit on these two crucial regulationsrelated to labelling of ‘junk’ food and to guide schools on the food menu," he said.
Responding to the gaps in regulating marketing tactics of the food industry, Bhushan added, “We must keep a check on HFSS food advertisements targeted at children.A comprehensive framework to effectively regulate advertisements across broadcasting and new-age digital media is missing.”
“We urge and hope that policymakers will take note of these discussions here today and help reduce the burden of NCDs and contain the AMR crisis in the country,”Narain said.