Insights into Editorial: Why is it taking so long to label fast food?
The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) unveiled a new study which showed that salt and fat in an array of “junk food” was well above proposed regulatory thresholds.
The packaged and fast foods analysed were chips, savouries, pizzas and burgers that are widely available in restaurants and other commercial outlets.
This is not the first time that the CSE has conducted such research.
However, the findings are significant as the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) is yet to make into law draft regulations on setting limits, and publicising information, about nutrients in fast and packaged foods.
Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), also known as chronic diseases, tend to be of long duration and are the result of a combination of genetic, physiological, environmental and behaviours factors.
The main types of NCDs are cardiovascular diseases (like heart attacks and stroke), cancers, chronic respiratory diseases (such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma) and diabetes.
NCDs disproportionately affect people in low- and middle-income countries where more than three quarters of global NCD deaths – 32million – occur.
Adverse consequences of Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs):
- Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) kill 41 million people each year, equivalent to 71% of all deaths globally.
- Each year, 15 million people die from a NCD between the ages of 30 and 69 years; over 85% of these “premature” deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries.
- Cardiovascular diseases account for most NCD deaths, or 17.9 million people annually, followed by cancers (9.0 million), respiratory diseases (3.9million), and diabetes (1.6 million).
- These 4 groups of diseases account for over 80% of all premature NCD deaths.
- Tobacco use, physical inactivity, the harmful use of alcohol and unhealthy diets all increase the risk of dying from an NCD.
- Detection, screening and treatment of NCDs, as well as palliative care, are key components of the response to NCDs.
Packaged foods breach safe limits of salt, fat: CSE study:
The CSE found that given the size of the servings and the amount of nutrients per 100 gm, a single packet of packaged nuts, soup or noodles ended up having these salts and fats well over the recommended limits.
For instance, Haldiram Aloo Bhujia, a popular savoury snack, with a serve size of 231 gm, had the equivalent of 7 gm of salt and 99 gm of total (saturated and unsaturated) fat.
A single serving of the Nestle’s Maggi Masala (70 gm) exhausted 50% of the composite RDA for a snack, and a serving of Haldiram’s nut cracker exhausted 35% of the salt RDA and 26% of the fat RDA, the CSE analysis found.
Why is industry opposed to the proposed laws?
- Other than the red labels, the industry says the norms are unscientific and that packaged food is made to cater to the “taste” of people.
- Moreover, the packaged industry argues, immense quantities of junk food think samosas or fried food sold on unregulated pushcarts are consumed in the country with no check on their nutritional status and there is an inherent unfairness in regulating one section alone.
- Because nutritional information only guides consumers on how to regulate their intake, the industry feels people should be advised on what makes a healthy diet, the role of exercise and consuming appropriate amounts of food. They claim the current regulations only contribute to fear-mongering.
Therefore, Daily ceiling:
To calculate how unsafe the foods tested were, the organisation relied on the concept of the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) a daily ceiling on the amount of salt, fat, carbohydrates and trans fats.
The RDA is based on scientific consensus and has been agreed upon by expert bodies such as the World Health Organisation, and the National Institute of Nutrition in India.
It says that, ideally, no more than 5 gm of salt, 60 gm of fat, 300 gm carbohydrate and 2.2 gm of trans fat should be consumed by an adult every day.
Further, the RDA from each breakfast, lunch and dinner should be no more than 25%, and that from snacks no more than 10%.
According to the proposed draft Food Safety and Standards (Labelling and Display) Regulations, packaged food companies will need to declare nutritional information such as calories (energy), saturated fat, trans-fat, added sugar and sodium per serve on the front of the pack.
The food labels are also required to declare, per serve percentage contribution to RDA on the front of the pack.
Though under discussions since 2015 and several drafts the latest one came out recently, these rules have yet to become law, and to be operationalised.
In 2018, the FSSAI came up with a draft law, the Food Safety and Standards (Labelling and Display) Regulations, 2018.
The draft recommended that a packet should have clear information on how much each nutrient, such as salt, sugar, contributed to the RDA.
The draft said salt must be declared as sodium chloride for instance, and that those ingredients which breached the RDA should be marked in ‘red’.
‘Red Octagon’ can be best Way Forward:
The CSE took the values prescribed in the drafts for their calculations and concluded that all of the popular snacks and fast foods ought to be displaying a ‘Red Octagon’, a warning symbol employed in packaged foods in Chile and Peru.
The Red Octagon, which should be printed on the front of the pack, has a number and the name of the food component within that indicates how widely off the RDA a particular ingredient is.
Thus, a Red “3.1, Salt” on a pack of Lay’s India’s Magic Masala by PepsiCo indicates that the salt it contains is 3.1 times the RDA for snacks.
“What we have seen is that all of the packaged foods of the various brands we tested would be in the red.
The regulations, as they now stand, don’t apply to fast foods such as burgers and pizzas, even though they were included in the CSE analysis.
Surveys undertaken by the WHO show that a vast majority of European countries have some form of front-of-pack labelling, but fewer countries have interpretive systems which explain the health factor of foods.