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With junk food now officially defined, FSSAI has no reason not to regulate them

junk food
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NEW DELHI, MAY 21: With the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) and the National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) releasing new Dietary Guidelines for Indians, FSSAI’s plea that it is hampered in regulating ultra-processed food (UPF) and foods high in fat, sugars and salt (HFSS) because the terms “have not been defined” may no longer be valid. The guidelines released last week have detailed definitions of UPF and HFSS foods put together by a scientific body.
The guidelines also spell out the harm caused by consumption of UPF. “Lack of fibre and poor micronutrients makes them unhealthy. Also, UPFs contribute to high calorie (energy) intake as they are often high in fat. UPFs are consumed in larger quantities by a large population since these have unique taste, high palatability and low cost as well as are easily available even in remote areas. …UPF consumption is associated with overweight/obesity and higher risks of coronary heart disease (heart attack), cerebrovascular diseases (stroke) and diabetes. UPFs also hasten the process of ageing”, stated the guidelines.
On February 5, Nutrition Advocacy in Public Interest-India (NAPi), a national think tank on nutrition consisting of independent experts in epidemiology, nutrition, and paediatrics, wrote to the Health Ministry seeking regulations for labelling and marketing of UPF and HFSS foods “to halt their rising consumption”. Responding to the letter on April 15, FSSAI stated that “it is informed that the terms ultra-processed food and junk foods have not been defined in any of the Food Safety and Standards Regulations” and that comments and suggestions received from stakeholders on the Food Safety and Standards (Labelling & Display) Amendment Regulations, 2022 notified by the FSSAI “are under examination”.
It included a list of initiatives taken by FSSAI to reduce consumption of UPFs such as Eat Right India, the social media campaign “Aaj se thoda kam” urging dietary modifications to reduce diet-related non-communicable diseases and a ban on sale/marketing of HFSS foods in schools or in areas within 50 metres from the school gate in any direction.
“Why does it take FSSAI so long to examine the comments given in 2022? It has been working on regulation of front-of-pack labeling for a decade now”, said Dr Arun Gupta of NAPi. Front-of-pack labelling was proposed in 2014 by an expert committee constituted by the FSSAI on the order of the Delhi High Court on a public interest petition seeking labelling and a ban on sale of junk food in schools.
On May 10, NAPi wrote to the Health Ministry urging the use of the NIN dietary guidelines, which are “science-based practicable guidelines”, “for developing regulations that could meaningfully prohibit advertising of HFSS and UPFs”. The guidelines also provide guidance on which food products could be regulated for front-of-pack labelling and prohibition of advertisements, stated the letter.