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Union Health Ministry, FSSAI 'fail to respond' to NHRC directive on packaged food

By Our Representative 

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has expressed deep concern over the adverse health effects caused by packaged foods high in salt, sugar, and saturated fats. Recognizing it as a violation of the Right to Life and Right to Health of Indian citizens, the quasi-judicial body called for a response from the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) regarding its selection of front-of-pack labels aimed at providing consumers with information to make healthier choices.
Established in 1993 with the purpose of safeguarding human rights in the country, the NHRC issued the directive in response to a complaint filed on September 14, 2021, by Shruti Nagvanshi and Shirin Shabana Khan on behalf of the Peoples' Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR) and the Savitri Bai Phule Mahila Panchayat of Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh.
The Commission issued its first notice on October 11, 2021, to the Secretary, Health & Family Welfare, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India, followed by February 9, 2022 directive to the Chief Executive Officer, FSSAI. On September 20, 2022 FSSAI introduced the Front of Pack Labelling (FOPL) draft regulation, which was subsequently opened for public comment.
Shruti Nagvanshi, co-complainant and Convenor of the Savitri Bai Phule Mahila Panchayat, remarked, "Indians are witnessing a sharp rise in premature deaths and morbidity due to Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes, obesity, cancers, and cardiovascular diseases. These ailments are affecting the youth and children, sometimes as early as 5 years of age."
According to her, "Packaged food products with high levels of sugar, salt, or fats are a primary cause of this crisis. Unable to tolerate the harm being inflicted on consumers unknowingly, we approached the NHRC to assert that consumers have the right to know what's in their food."
She added, "A clear warning on FOPL is the only way to protect our children and people from catastrophic health consequences. While FSSAI has introduced a draft regulation and proposed a certain type of FOPL, it is not the best choice for the people. We need a clear warning and not a misleading star-based rating system."
The notion that unhealthy food can become healthy simply by adding fruits or nuts is erroneous and lacks scientific basis
In a rare move, NHRC decided to constitute a full commission for this matter. According to Dr Lenin Raghuvanshi, Founder and Convenor of PVCHR, "In the interest of public health, it would be appropriate for FSSAI to abandon the idea of a star rating. An alert or warning label is the need of the hour."
He added, "For over two years now, members of the PIPAL (People's Initiative for Participatory Action on Food Labeling) network have been advocating for the protection of a child's right to healthy food and a healthy life. This is a significant moment for this movement, and we hope that FSSAI pays heed."
Dr Yuvraj Singh, commenting on FSSAI's proposed India Nutrition Rating (INR), stated, "The notion that unhealthy food can become healthy simply by adding fruits or nuts is erroneous and lacks scientific basis. The assignment of stars is based on a complex scoring system that values positive factors such as the inclusion of fruit or nuts. This 'star rating' may mask many of the detrimental effects of these products and convey a misleading message to the public."
Expressing confidence in the full commission, Shirin Shabana Khan, Program Director of PVCHR, said, "There is enough evidence from India, including a study conducted by the All India Institutes of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), International Institute for Population Sciences (IIPS), and leading nutritionists like Dr Chandrakant Pandav, that warning labels work best. Countries worldwide are adopting warning labels to protect their people. We should adhere to what is right and scientific."
Shruti Nagvanshi emphasized that the journey has not been easy, with NHRC issuing reminders and notices to the Ministry of Health and FSSAI that received no responses.

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