In 2018 the Food Safety Standards Authority India (FSSAI) published draft regulation for FOPL which was subsequently withdrawn for further deliberation. In 2019 December, FSSAI delinked FOPL from general labelling regulations and is currently seeking inputs from consumer rights organisations, industry and nutrition experts for a viable model for India.
Medical experts across the country have called for the adoption of an effective front-of-pack food labels (FOPL). They have also decided to send a set of recommendations to the Ministry of Health regarding the same. This was revealed at an event organised by AIIMS Rishikesh, wherein experts from the nationwide network of AIIMS, the Indian Academy of Paediatrics, Indian Institute of Liver and Biliary Sciences, Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research PGIMER, Indian Public Health Association (IPHA) and other medical institutions asserted that millions of lives will be saved if India establishes scientific cut-off limits for salt, sugar, saturated fats and mandates clear and simple warning label on packaged products as has been done abroad in countries like Chile, Mexico and Brazil.
With 135 million people obese and deaths due to non-communicable diseases (NCDs) on the rise, India is facing the devastating impact of unhealthy diet. Packaged junk food, a major component of unhealthy diets, is a leading cause of obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease (CVD), cancer and death. Citing an exponential rise in market availability of ultra-processed foods containing high levels of sugars, sodium and saturated fats as a key contributor to this obesity epidemic and upsurge in NCD prevalence.
In his keynote address, Dr Ravi Kant, Director, AIIMS Rishikesh stated that a strong and effective FOPL is a public health priority for India, something that will protect thousands of Indian lives.
Poor diet, as a result of packaged and ultra-processed food, is causing a gradual epidemiological shift in India’s disease burden. According to Dr. Suneela Garg, President, Indian Association of Preventive and Social Medicine, conditions such as diabetes, obesity, heart disease or cancers are closely linked to excessive intake of energy-dense and nutrient poor foods and beverages. Consumers have the right to accurate health information regarding packaged products. Having incomprehensible or misleading information about a food product puts them at a higher risk of making uninformed choices that lead to overweight, obesity and other diet-related conditions.
Front-of-package warning labelling is a key component of a comprehensive strategy to promote healthier lives as it enables consumers to identify in a quick, clear and effective way, products that are high in nutrient of concern associated with the NCD burden in India.
As India observes the national nutrition month and leading up the UN Food Summit (on September 23), the spotlight is more than ever on excessive intake of these “nutrients of concern”. Even as countries were being ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic, the food and beverage industry expanded their market of unhealthy, ultra-processed foods and sugary drinks.
IPHA president Dr Sanjay Rai emphasised that FOPL is indeed one of the most effective approaches to positively impact public health, “but it is also important to choose the correct format”.