Soon, a packet of chips or biscuits that you buy could have a warning label upfront. The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) CEO Arun Singhal said on Monday that the food regulator is working on introducing front-of-pack-labelling (FOPL) for packaged foods to curb consumption of junk food.
FOPL is a nutrition labelling system where information about the nutrients and their quality is presented upfront on a food package in a simple manner and is a practice followed in most developed countries. In India, the current norms only require all pre-packed processed food products to display nutritional information, which is at the back or side of a food pack, but salt is not required to be declared.
The regulator has been considering these norms for nearly two years now. Last year, the FSSAI had released draft Labelling and Display regulations intended to supersede the Food Safety and Standards (Packaging and Labelling) Regulations, 2011, which proposed to make it mandatory to display red colour-coding on front-of-the-pack labels on packaged food products that have high-fat, high-sugar and high-salt content levels. It was also proposed that food labels declare, per serve percentage contribution to RDA (recommended dietary allowance) on the front of the pack.
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Internationally, the display of HFSS (High Trans-Fat, Sugar & Sodium) is a common practice in three colours – red, amber and green, where red indicates high content and green low.
Speaking at an FSSAI event, Singhal said that obesity is becoming a problem in India, especially among children and the youth at a time when the consumption of packaged foods is on the rise. He said that there is a need for information to be displayed on packaged foods in a simpler manner about the impact of their consumption so that consumers are able to make an informed choice.
Singhal said that FSSAI has been in discussion with the industry and that discussions have been dragging on amid differences of opinion between the industry and the regulator. Currently, he said, they have reached a consensus on all technical aspects, except the form or nature of labelling.
According to industry sources, various concerns have been raised by a few in the industry. One has been that upfront warning of say high trans-fat or sugar content could deter consumers from buying the product, potentially impacting sales of consumer food companies. There have also been concerns that FOPL would also take up branding space and that could mean changing the packaging of all their products. Another industry source said that there is also a difference of opinion in the nature of labelling, in terms of what ingredient or substance needs to be mentioned in the FOPL.
Implementation of these regulations will impact FMCG majors that have a significant presence in packaged food items such as Nestle, ITC, Britannia, Haldirams, PepsiCo India, Parle, Bikanervala, and RPG Group, among others.