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Front-of-pack labelling on less healthy food & beverages is need of the hour – The New Indian Express

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Labels on most processed foods mention manufacturing and expiry dates, MRP, net weight, ingredients by quantity, manufacturer’s address, complaint details, and nutritional information, as mandated by law. However, studies reveal that consumers spend only a few seconds reading a label, mainly the expiry date, and price. Nutritional information is overlooked because the information is complex with numbers alongside entries like energy, calories, sugar, total sugars, added sugars, salt, sodium, saturated fat, trans fat, etc. These mean very little to a common person. Nutritional information per serve size, where available, adds to the confusing numbers. Consumers, especially those who rely on processed foods, are looking for convenience, and therefore want to make quick decisions.

WHO recommends the implementation of front-of-pack labelling (FoPL) on less healthy foods and beverages as a strategy to prevent and control NCDs. The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) also recognises the need for FoPL and is in the process of issuing regulations. We must settle for nothing less than clear, interpretative, warning labels on front of packs of processed foods, clearly indicating high salt, sugar and fat content in these. This will suit India best as it will cut across the barriers of illiteracy and multiple languages. Countries like Israel and Chile have successfully implemented it, with the latter significantly reducing purchase of sugar-sweetened beverages since the implementation of regulations.

The manufacturer of one product is a consumer of several others. Therefore, processed food manufacturers should recognise the seriousness of the issue, and engage with labelling policies, prioritising human health over profits.

FSSAI should consider the interests of consumers, especially those from the rural areas, and mandate warning labels that will be beneficial to all. Consumers have a right to reliable, clear information to make informed food choices. The most effective way of conveying this information is through warning labels on front of pack of processed foods. Warning labels remain a key means of addressing our NCD crisis, and must therefore be prioritised by policy makers.

Preventing diseases

WHO recommends such labelling to prevent and control non-communicable diseases. Countries like Israel and Chile have successfully implemented it

Footnote is a weekly column that discusses issues relating to Tamil Nadu Saroja S is executive director of Citizen Consumer and Civic Action Group, a non-profit organisation working for citizens’ rights in consumer and environmental issues.

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