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Experts shocked: Food regulator 'favours' unhealthy pearl millet chocolate bars

Counterview Desk 
In a letter to Dr Mansukh Mandaviya, Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare, several experts and senior activists, commenting on the need to prevent non-communicable diseases (NCDs) have said that there is a need too harmonise India’s health laws with the Consumer Protection Act, insisting that there should be a criteria to objectively define what is a “healthy food”.
Prepared by Dr Vandana Prasad, Community Pediatrician, Public Health Resource Network and Jan Swasthya Abhiayan; Prof HPS Sachdev, Senior Pediatrician & Epidemiologist; Dr. Arun Gupta, Child Health & Nutrition Advocate; Dr Umesh Kapil, Secretary, National Academy of Medical Sciences (NAMS); Prof KP Kushwaha, Pediatrician & Former Principal, BRD Medical College Gorakhpur; Dr Prasanta Tripathy, co-founder, Ekjut; Dr JP Dadhich, Child Health & Nutrition Advocate; and Nupur Bidla, PhD scholar (Social Work), the letter says, this is especially important as “India is witnessing a public health crisis of huge proportions.”

Text:

We write as Nutrition Advocacy in Public Interest (NAPi), a national think tank on nutrition –consisting of independent experts in epidemiology, human nutrition, community nutrition and pediatrics, medical education, administration and management; having decades of experience in respective fields; and have come together to advocate on nutrition policy in public interest. NAPi was chaired by Late Sh. Keshav Desiraju.
India is witnessing a public health crisis of huge proportions. Obesity is increasing rapidly in India in children under 5. In adult men and women obesity increased by almost 25% during the past 5 years. This leads to the consequences of rising burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and deaths in adulthood. It estimated that 5.8 million people die from NCDs every year and the proportion of deaths due to NCDs (among all deaths) increased from 37% in 1990 to 61% in 2016. In India 56% of children between 5 to 19 years of age showed cardio-metabolic risk factors.(CNNS-2016).
One of the main risk factors for the occurrence of obesity and NCDs is the increase in consumption of ultra-processed food products, which are characterised by industrial processing, cosmetic additives, flavouring and colouring agents, high sugar, fat and sodium content that are available as pre-packaged and aggressively marketed, which leads to decrease in consumption of minimally processed or fresh foods.
We would like to bring the following two critical issues to your kind attention to prevent NCDs: one to harmonise the Consumer Laws with Health Laws, and second to objectively define “Healthy Food”.
1. Why is harmonisation of Consumer Laws with Health Laws necessary?
The FSS Act 2006, states in Section 24. Restrictions of advertisement and prohibition as to unfair trade practices.- (1) No advertisement shall be made of any food which is misleading or deceiving or contravenes the provisions of this Act, the rules and regulations made there under.
Most of the advertised pre-packaged food products claim to be healthy even as these contain unhealthy nutrients and cosmetic additives
The Central Consumer Protection Authority issued a notification on 9th June, 2022; for prevention of misleading advertisements. Section 8(1)(i) of which reads as “Children targeted advertisements. – (1) An advertisement that addresses or targets or uses children shall not – (i) “feature personalities from the field of sports, music or cinema for products which under any law requires a health warning for such advertisement or cannot be purchased by children”. Since both these regulations aim to prevent misleading advertisements, and therefore, NCDs, it would be appropriate to harmonise Health Laws with the Consumer Protection Act.
2. Why is an objective definition of “healthy food” necessary?
Recent tweet from the Food Regulator itself projected healthy Pearl Millet Chocolate Nuty Bars to be ‘healthy’, which is hard to understand given its contents: millets, peanut butter, almonds, walnuts, cashew nuts oil, butter and dark chocolate (which incidentally is 80Gms. of the total weight of 180gms). Nutrition information showed it has 71 grams of carbs, 74 grams of fat, 17 grams of protein and energy value of 1022 kcal. Calculating per100 gms reveals it to be 567 kcal per 100 gms (Annex-1). Tweet: “Try this healthy Pearl Millet Chocolate Nuty Bars to power your day”. (See Annex Pics)https://twitter.com/fssaiindia/status/1657622712196694017?s=20 (accessed at 17.40 hours 15-05-23).
It is of deep concern as this message comes from the Government’s food regulator. It calls for an objective definition, what is a “healthy food”. Furthermore, most of the advertised pre-packaged food products do claim to be ‘healthy’ even as these contain unhealthy nutrients and cosmetic additives. The WHO’s recent guideline asks to avoid non-sugar sweeteners.
Therefore, a criteria to objectively define what is a “healthy food” is the need of the hour.
In conclusion, considering the necessity and urgency, NAPi requests the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) to bring up a Bill to address both these issues.
We will be happy to assist. Needless to say this step will go a long way in preventing the risk of NCDs.

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