A new lab study by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has found dangerous level of salts and fats in packaged foods sold in India. The levels have been found to be much higher than the threshold set by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), but not notified.
In the study, the Environment Monitoring Laboratory (EML) has tested salt, fat, trans fat and carbohydrate levels in 33 packaged food items which include chips, namkeen, noodles, burgers, pizzas, wraps, sandwiches and fried chicken. Officials at CSE alleged that despite FSSAI being aware of the situation, it's dragging its feet in notifying labels for junk foods owing to pressure from the industry lobbies.
â€śWe have found dangerously high levels of salt and fat in all the packaged food and fast food samples that we tested. We consumers have a right to know what is contained in the package. This is not acceptable. This is compromising our right to know and our right to health,â€ť CSE director general Sunita Narain said in a press release.
A draft notifying labelling regulations has been under preparation since 2013. Speaking to TNM, Amit Khurana, programme director, food safety and toxins team, says the committee brought out a draft on label regulations in 2018 which it again sought to revise this year due to industry concerns.
â€śThe 2019 draft, prepared by a committee headed by B Sesikeran, former director of the National Institute of Nutrition, is much compromised and diluted. In 2018, FSSAI had publicly admitted that there were concerns about the red label (an indicator for the levels of salt and trans fat in junk food) from the food industry. However, considering the non-communicable lifestyle diseases that India is now struggling with, we cannot afford to ignore the warning that the CSE has given,â€ť Khurana says.
According to Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA), if we have three meals and two snacks a day, each snack must not add up to more than 10 per cent of the RDA. From the lab reports of CSE, majority of junk food that we consume exceeds the recommended levels of salt and fats in our diet.
According to CSEâ€™s lab reports, Too Yumm Multigrain Chips (which Indian cricket captain Virat Kohli advertises as a â€śsmart snackâ€ť) had the maximum salt content- 1 g in 30 g of chips while the permissible level of salt intake from snacks in a day is just 0.5 grams. Among namkeens, Haldiramâ€™s Classic Nut Crackers scored high on the salt content. Instant noodles and soups (Maggi and Knorr products were tested) also revealed very high salt levels, so did samples of burgers (McDonaldâ€™s, Burger King), pizzas (Dominoâ€™s, Pizza Hut), and sandwiches (Subway).
The 2018 draft had made red label on packets mandatory if sugar provided more than 10% of energy provided by 100g of the product. However, in the revised draft of 2019, the same threshold applies, but only for added sugars.
â€śIt is clear that the powerful food industry is not satisfied and wants to weaken the draft further. Our study shows why they are worried. All their most popular foods would be labelled RED. We would know and we would protect the health of our children,â€ť Sunita Narain says, adding, â€śIt is clear that the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and FSSAI must decide on whose side they are: industry or public health. If the stakes are high for industry, they are even higher for public health.â€ť