There is nothing called junk food” – says the food industry. This was the contention that the industry had put forth to a committee set up in 2013 under directions from the Delhi High Court. The committee had been tasked to frame guidelines for junk food in the country. I was a member of the committee, along with extremely dedicated, committed and knowledgeable medical professionals.
On the face of it there was no one from the junk food industry in the committee. In the early meetings, we only knew that there were members of two associations who were representing the food industry in the committee. But as discussions got under way, it became clear that the big junk food industry was present in the meeting. We learnt that the member representing the National Restaurant Association of India was a top official from Coca-Cola – the world’s most powerful beverage company that is at the centre of the junk food debate globally. The other grouping, All India Food Processors Association, was represented by Swiss food giant Nestlé, which has commercial interest in instant noodles and other junk food.
The committee had been set up because of a case filed in 2010 by Delhi-based NGO Uday Foundation, which asked for a ban on junk food in schools and in their vicinity. In September 2013, the High Court ordered the government to setup a committee to frame guidelines for food as the “ill effects of eating junkfood have been documented by public health experts and also paediatricians”. The question for the committee was to understand what makes food junk; why is it bad for our health; and what is being done to regulate junk food in other parts of the world. And most importantly, learning from this, what would bethe best way to regulate junk food in the country.
My colleagues and I at the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) took on the responsibility to review global literature and to produce information to guide the work of the committee on these issues. This document puts together the information and our recommendations on what needs to be done.