Fast-track food labelling

Vital to controlling disease burden, managing food allergies

Fast-track food labelling

Photo for representation only. - File photo

SADLY, addressing the important issue of proper labelling on packaged food products — it has a direct bearing on the consumers’ health — in our country tends to be an indeterminately prolonged affair, plunging, meanwhile, lakhs of people into the financially and mentally straining rut of being disease-ridden. The authorities drag their feet on striking an acceptable balance between the protection of consumers’ right to precise information of ingredients and the powerfully rich manufacturers’ lobby. It is widely known that the intake of the addictive ultra-processed food items, being overly packed with harmful sugar, salt, sodium and fats, is linked to the proliferation of diabetes and heart ailments. That India worrisomely ranks at number two in such diseases and their prevalence is growing should have goaded the Food Safety Standards Authority of India to fast-track its decisions. But even eight years down the line, it is still debating whether the labelling should include a health warning along with the quantity of sugar, salt, sodium and fats (that consumers want) or just mention their amount (that producers want) on the packet. There is still a long way to a resolution, draft proposal and final issuance of norms, covering manufacturers, retailers and wholesalers.

Particularly impacted by the inordinate delays in the enforcement of such guidelines are the estimated 1-3 per cent of the population dependent on information warnings of food allergens such as gluten (a protein present in wheat, rye, barley), milk, soybean, egg, nuts, seafood etc. The intake of even minuscule quantities of the allergen may be enough to trigger a flare-up and cause huge misery to the patients and their families. Food allergies cause nearly 30,000 emergency treatments and 100 to 200 deaths per year in India.

There is much to learn from some western countries that have imposed food labelling rules for over 15 years now. Equally impressive are the high awareness levels there, ensuring allergen-sensitive hospitality by hotels and restaurants. Another related field begging for our government’s consideration is the compensation doled out by Italy to celiac disease patients for their life-long medically prescribed dependence on expensive gluten-free diet.

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