In a bid to enable consumers to make informed choices, the food safety regulator Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has come out with draft labelling norms. These rules make it clear that packaged foods must have nutritional information on the front of the pack and food products with high sugar or fat should be colour coded.
FMCG companies are not happy about these rules and some industry sources say nearly 70 percent of packaged food products could be labelled "red" if these draft rules are implemented.
CNBC-TV18 spoke with Subodh Jindal, president of All India Food Processors' Association (AIFPA), Harish Bijoor, founder of Harish Bijoor Consults, Anil Talreja, partner at Deloitte India, and AK Tyagi, executive director at Haldiram Snacks, to discuss the draft norms and its impact if implemented.
Jindal said: "This issue has been continuing for many years and making the basis of salt, sugar and fat content to depict a traffic lighting is absolutely an unscientific way of doing something. How do you lay a parameter that consumption of salt, sugar, fat is such a big variable, it varies with age. A 5-year-old child has a different consumption level to an 18-year-old or to a 60-year-old. It also depends on lifestyle, it depends whether you are a sportsman or athlete, whether you are a sedentary person or you are in active person, it depends on your medical prognosis, it depends on so many other things, so how do you fix one parameter?"
Bijoor said: "This has taken a while coming because we are talking about amendments to the act of 2011. Out here what is being pointed out is that there are two or four items which are red flag items and the red flag items on health are calories, energy can be positive, energy calories can be negative, the second is saturated fat, the third is trans fat and the fourth is added sugar because that seems to be enemy number one and of course sodium per serve which, talking about India, is becoming the capital of some of the lifestyle diseases like diabetes and hypertension. So can we take a step back and do things differently?"
Bijoor added: "The point seems to be, what used to be in small print, is likely to be in big print. What used to be in big print, it is likely to be with logos and with visual icons. However, it should not complicate things, it should simplify because only 2 percent of people read packaging and that is a very small number."
Talreja said: "On one hand this is a way of communicating awareness to the consumer. The government's intention is to make the consumer aware of what the person is eating. On the other hand, we cannot have traffic lights which are one way. You have to also appreciate the fact that there are several health patterns, culture, weather conduciveness and that is one important determination factor before you come and just blow lights to an individual. One more important thing is how many percentage of the population really reads or looks at the information which is given in a very microscopic manner in a particular product? That is an important fact that needs to be communicated that before you change anything, recognise that how many people actually read before they eat."Tyagi said: "Considering the Indian food industry most of our items will come under the red category. If you take the example of milk and fruit juices even they come under the red category as fat content in the milk and sugar content in the juices is higher. So we cannot copy paste this rule from the outside, we have to consider the Indian consumer also and also see the taste habit of the Indian consumer. Milk and fruit juices are very healthy items but if we get these norms, it will come under the red category. In India lot of people are under malnutrition and lot of people are over-nutrition, therefore we have to give food for malnutrition as well as for the over-nutrition."