Food Talk, a media briefing and public meeting organized by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), takes a close look at the complete gamut of issues related to food labeling, claims and advertisements
Indian food and consumer laws are grossly inadequate: they do not require that manufacturers inform consumers about a number of things in the foods that they buy which might affect their health, such as salt, fatty acids, dietary fibres etc. Equally lax are the laws to control false or misleading advertisements on food
Proposed amendment to Consumer Protection Act to rein in misleading or false endorsement by celebrities, has holes
CSE calls for a range of measures to contain the influence of unhealthy foods; recommendations include a complete ban on celebrities endorsing such foods, and on advertisements of such foods
New Delhi, December 16, 2016: Celebrities should be banned from endorsing foods high in salt, sugar and fats. Also, advertisements for certain items such as non-dairy, non-fruit based sugar-sweetened products (soft drinks) should not be allowed: this was the opinion expressed by speakers at Food Talk, a media briefing and public meeting organised here today by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).
Delivering her opening address at the briefing, Sunita Narain, director general, CSE, said: “The government is considering amending the Consumer Protection Act to provide for five-year jail terms or a penalty of Rs 50 lakh to hold celebrities responsible for false and misleading claims. But the same amendment says that there will be no liability if precautions are taken and due diligence is done before deciding to endorse a product. In other words, this amendment amounts to nothing.”
Among the speakers at the workshop were Sanjay Khajuria, Head of Corporate Affairs, Nestle India; Ishi Khosla, nutritionist and founder, The Weight Monitor; Shriram Khanna, managing editor, Consumer Voice; Rajesh Sagar, professor and head, Dept. of Psychiatry, All India Institute of Medical Sciences; Pushpa Girimaji, senior journalist and author; Harish Bijoor, CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc.; Santosh Desai, MD & CEO, Future Brands; Pawan Aggarwal, CEO, Food Safety and Standards Authority of India; and Hem Pande, secretary, Department of Consumer Affairs.
The state of food labeling-claim laws in India
As per the Food Safety and Standards (Packaging and Labelling) Regulations, 2011:
Energy, along with the amount of proteins, carbohydrates and fats, is required to be declared. The quantity of sugar is to be specified along with that of carbohydrates.
The information could be mentioned as per 100 gm or 100 ml or per serving of a product. In case of per serve declaration, serving measure is to be mentioned alongside.
Only two kinds of claims are approved, based on content of nutrients, but mentioned as health claims.
What our food laws do not mandatorily require mention of are the amounts of salt/added sugar, dietary fibres, vitamins, minerals, fatty acids and cholesterol (mention might be made only in case of a filing of a claim). Neither does India have a standardized serving size requirement – however, the condition for the claim “trans-fat free” has been based on serving size!
Says Amit Khurana, programme manager, Food Safety and Toxins team, CSE: “In contrast to best practices in other parts of the world, there is no mention of several other types of nutrition claims. There is no list of approved or non-approved health claims. Neither is there a mention of a need for an approval process, or the kind of scientific substantiation required.”
“There is a clear trend of focusing on a single attribute of a product while making claims, completely missing the concept of wholesome food or balanced diet. A look at the content of a few popular packaged food claims suggests that these could be unhealthy due to nutrients other than those claimed,” adds Khurana.
Advertising regulations in India
Food advertisements in India come under the purview of various government departments and agencies. However, it is largely self-regulated through the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), which has no punitive powers of its own. The Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 has provisions to prohibit food advertisements that are misleading in nature. It, however, has no power to approve or monitor food advertisements by itself. It has a memorandum of understanding with ASCI, which primarily acts based on complaints through its code on food advertisements.
One of the key issues that has been in the news is celebrity endorsement of food products – endorsement of foods high in salt, sugar and fat by celebrities is a huge concern the world over. The expert committee on Consumer Protection Bill, 2015 has recommended a penalty of Rs 10 lakh and imprisonment of up to two years or both for a first offence by a celebrity responsible for false and misleading claims. The penalty is Rs 50 lakh and five-year imprisonment for a second offence.
“But,” says Khurana, “There are two problems with this proposal – one, manufacturers have not been held equally guilty and two, celebrities may not understand the science behind the claims and conduct due diligence.”
What CSE calls for
Strengthen the nutrition facts labeling system. Make labeling of salt/sodium, added sugar, saturated fats and transfats, as well as serving information, mandatory.
Develop an easy-to-understand front of pack labeling system.
With reference to nutrition claims, ascertain the nutrients for which claims can be made. Only authorized health claims should be allowed.
Approve food advertisements, particularly of those high in salt, sugar or fat, before screening.
Ban celebrities from endorsing foods high in salt, sugar or fat.
Disallow advertising for categories such as soft drinks on the lines of tobacco-based products.
Restrict disguised promotion of foods high in fat, salt or sugar in schools and mass media.
Institute and enforce stringent legal and financial penalties for misleading claims.
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