Levels of salt, fat in junk foods way higher than proposed thresholds, says new CSE lab study
Points out that industry is opposing notification of draft regulation because then we will know how bad their food is
Expert group made recommendations six years ago, but the draft regulation that has emerged is severely diluted -- even this much-diluted draft has not been notified
CSE sounds the alarm bells, calls for urgent notification of labelling laws and RED warning label on food that crosses the healthy threshold
#Markitred is the campaign that CSE wants people to push. Our health is our business, not the business of industry
New Delhi, December 17, 2019: A new laboratory analysis by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) on commonly available popular processed foods has set the warning bells tolling. The study finds that most packaged food and fast food items being sold in India contain dangerously high levels of salt and fat in them – the levels have been found to be much higher than the thresholds set by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), but not notified.
The tests were conducted by CSE’s Environment Monitoring Laboratory (EML), which is well known for its earlier findings on food products consumed in India (pesticide in soft drinks, potassium bromate in bread, antibiotics in honey and chicken etc – please visit https://www.cseindia.org/page/eml-laboratory for details). In the current study, the EML has tested salt, fat, transfats and carbohydrates in 33 popular junk foods, which include 14 samples of chips, namkeen, instant noodles and instant soup and 19 samples of burgers, fries, fried chicken, pizza, sandwich and wraps. These samples were collected from grocery stores and fast food outlets in Delhi and are known to be widely sold and consumed across the country.
A saga of drafts and committees
Releasing the study results here today, CSE director general Sunita Narain said: “We have found dangerously high levels of salt and fat in all the packaged food and fast food samples that we tested. We consumers have the right to know what is contained in the package. But our food regulator, the FSSAI, is dragging its feet and has not notified its own draft labelling regulation. This is clearly because of pressure from the powerful food industry. This is not acceptable. This is compromising our right to know and our right to health.”
Narain’s comment refers to the delay in notifying the draft Food Safety Standards, (Labelling and Display) Regulations – which has been in preparation since 2013. Over the six years, the FSSAI has constituted committee after committee and in 2018 a ‘final’ draft was issued; this was then revised and another 2019 final ‘draft’ was put out for public comments. CSE has found that the 2019 draft, prepared by a committee headed by B Sesikeran, former director of the National Institute of Nutrition and who is now a trustee of the global big food industry lobby group, International Life Sciences Institute, is much compromised and diluted. The report of the Sesikeran committee has also not been made public by FSSAI. Says Narain: “But even this final draft remains a draft. Clearly, our right to know and our right to health is not a priority.”
Says Amit Khurana, programme director, food safety and toxins team, CSE: “Are we really serious about limiting our burden of obesity, diabetes and heart diseases? The FSSAI’s attitude indicates otherwise. Junk foods and their consumption are the primary contributors to this huge burden of non-communicable lifestyle diseases that India is now struggling with. We cannot afford to ignore the warning that the CSE lab study has sounded.”
CSE has further analysed the findings of the laboratory study to understand how much of our Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) is used (or exhausted) by eating these foods. The concept of RDA is well established globally and is used to understand how much of any nutrient (salt, sugar, fat) should be consumed from different meals. Most packaged food falls into the ‘snack’ category and the RDA of this food is, therefore, a proportion of our daily intake. Elaborates Khurana: “If we say that we have three meals and two snacks in a day, each snack must not add up to more than 10 per cent of the RDA.”
What we found?
In the category chips and namkeen, among all the brands tested, Too Yumm Multigrain Chips (which Indian cricket captain Virat Kohli advertises as a “smart snack”) had the maximum salt content -- 1 g in 30 g of chips. In other words, 30 g of this gives double the day’s allowance of salt from a snack! Among namkeens, Haldiram’s Classic Nut Crackers scored high on the salt content. Instant noodles and soups (Maggi and Knorr products were tested) also revealed very high salt levels – so did samples of burgers (McDonald’s, Burger King), pizzas (Domino’s, Pizza Hut), and sandwiches (Subway). Please see complete study report and Down To Earth cover story on the study at www.cseindia.org.
CSE researchers point out that the FSSAI’s July 2019 much-diluted draft notification includes the provision for labelling food, based on thresholds. These thresholds, provided in an annexure to the draft regulations (2018 and 2019), give the amounts of fat and salt which are allowed in 100 g/ml of packaged food. Above this threshold, food has to be labelled “red”.
CSE has taken the threshold provided in the 2018 and 2019 drafts and applied it to the food that it tested. What it found from the results is not surprising at all – that all this food needs to be marked ‘red’. This is clearly why the powerful food industry is opposing this notification.
In the case of ‘added sugar’, the product would be labelled ‘red’ if the energy provided by the ‘added sugar’ is more than 10 per cent of the energy provided by 100 g of the product. In the 2018 draft, the notification had used ‘sugar’ and not ‘added sugar’. The draft 2019 regulation introduces ‘added sugar’, but has taken the same threshold as the one for ‘total sugar’ (50 g/day). This is clearly a compromise to appease the powerful beverage and juice industry, but will compromise our health instead, point out CSE researchers.
Mislabelling of transfats
Transfats are known to be deadly – therefore, they need to be completely eliminated in our foods because they are indicted for heart diseases. Mrinal Mallik, head of the CSE lab, says that the results show that in almost all the food CSE tested, companies have under-reported the amount of transfats in their products. ”This should not be allowed,” says Mallik.
The way ahead
Narain lays down the action that is required: “The FSSAI has prevaricated and delayed action for far too long on this matter. In the past six years, there have been three committees to finalise this draft. The 2018 draft was weakened and diluted and now even this much compromised 2019 draft has not been notified. It is clear that the powerful food industry is not satisfied and wants to weaken the draft further. Our study shows why they are worried. All their most popular foods would be labelled RED. We would know and we would protect the health of our children. This is not in the industry’s interest. It is clear that the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and FSSAI must decide on whose side they are: industry or public health. If the stakes are high for industry, they are even higher for public health.”
|नई लैब स्टडी में सीएसई का खुलासा, जन स्वास्थ्य से खिलवाड़ कर रही हैं फूड कंपनियां|
DTE COVER STORY
|CSE Lab Study on Junk Food|
|Junk Food Targeted at children|
|Report on Food Labelling, Claims and Advertisements|
|Nutritional Analysis of Junk Food|
REPORTS BY COMMITTEES
Guidelines for making available wholesome, nutritious, safe and hygienic food to school children in India submitted to Delhi High Court by FSSAI
Draft guidelines for making available wholesome, nutritious, safe and hygienic food to school children in India issued by FSSAI to all ministries and food safety commissioners
Report of expert group on consumption of fat, sugar and salt and its health effects on Indian population (Prabhakaran Committee Report)
Packaging and labelling regulations, 2011
Notice calling for suggestions, views, comments etc from stakeholders on the draft Food Safety and Standards (Labelling and Display) Regulations, 2018
Draft (labelling and display) regulations, 2019