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SNACKS & CONFECTIONERY

FSSAI expert group calls for high tax on junk food, ban on HFSS food ads
Friday, 12 May, 2017, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Ashwani Maindola, New Delhi
An expert group formed by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has prepared a report on junk food and suggested a ban on the advertisement of foods high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) and levying an additional tax on processed foods and sweetened beverages.

The experts particularly recommended a blanket ban on the telecast of such advertisements on kids’ channels. The report also mentioned the discouragement of celebrity endorsements of such food products.

Besides burgers, pizzas, chips and sweetened beverages, the junk food category included a number of Indian foods like samosas and pakoras.

With regard to the tax, the report stated, “Imposing additional tax on the purchase of commodities such as pre-packaged foods with high salt and fat content,sweetened beverages, etc.,can be a pragmatic approach to reduce their intake.”

The report stated that it had been seen that ads for most of the HFSS foods was concentrated on kids’  channels and shows.

Theexperts severely criticised this practice of sale by influencing young minds, stating that television commercials of food high in fat, sugar and salt greatly influencedthe eating habits of the young and the impressionable, and made them vulnerable to chronic diseases.

Besides, the additional tax on processed commodities and sweetened beverages was recommended because it was felt that levying an additional tax on the purchase of commodities such as pre-packaged foods with high salt and fat content,sweetened beverages, etc., could be a pragmatic approach to reduce their intake.  

On nutrition education and awareness, the group of experts recommended that a multi-faceted approach with policy convergence between nutrition, agriculture, food industries, health and allied sectors was warranted to bring about significant reduction in FSS intakes at large.

Advocating the reformulation of commercialised products, the group recommended thatthere should be encouragement of voluntary reformulation of food products to reduce the contents of fats (i.e. saturated fats and trans-fats), sugar (free sugars) and salt in packaged food.  

The report also talked about labelling of such products. “Positive nutritional labelling plays an important role in creating awareness among the population in order to make healthier food choices,” it added.

“Detailed guidance from FSSAI‘s panel, constituted specifically for labelling issues, is sought. The draft regulations on labelling by FSSAI need to becomedirectives and enforced stringently. A nutrition-sensitive and an enabling environment must be provided to allow a consumer to make healthier choices in a sustained fashion,” it added.

Meanwhile,the definition of junkfoodisquestionable.VaibhavKulkarni, chairman, regulatory committee, Health Foods and Dietary Supplements Association (HADSA), said, “There is no specific definition mentioned in any of the regulations for junk food in India. All we can say is junk food refers to those foods which have no health and nutritional benefit and a high amount of calories.”

Expressing his views on the idea of imposing taxation on junk food, he said, "It is a good initiative taken by the FSSAI. The aim is to discourage people to not consume junk food in large quantities.”

“In a way, FSSAI wants to keep a check on the people’s habits of consuming such foods. Banning is not a solution, but by imposing tax, consumption will be reduced. For instance, a person whoconsumes it five times in a week, will reduce his consumption to two or three times a week after theincrease in the price of the product,” Kulkarni said.

However, the food industry is not in resonance with the alleged unscientific pursuit against the junk food.

Reacting to this, an industry representative stated, “The fundamental question is what is junk food and what defines a food as junk food. Samosas and pakoras can be air fried without a drop of oil. Noodles made of atta with vegetables added is a desirable healthy food.What if the food is cooked in a different way (baked, roasted, grilled, etc.?) Will the decision change from dish to dish or plate to plate? And who decides it every moment in the field? Are the soproposed controls implementable?”

Will it not add to confusion and conflict in the sector in trying to classify different foods, preparation styles, change of ingredients, etc. and tagging what is valid and what is not? He added, “Let us not add to the regulatory harassment in the field, which is already enormous.”

The industry insider stated, “What is the locus standiof the committee without the representation of all stakeholders? Why has the industrybeen kept out of it? Even the High Court had explicitly ordered the participation of industry members.”

“And if the purpose is to reduce consumption, will it really work by imposing a higher tax on a product? Can someone tell howit has impacted the sale of cigarettes, pan masala or liquor? Every year, if you compare, the consumption of these products is increasing. You would easily get an idea that tax has failed as a deterrent,” he added.

Meanwhile, comparing the methods of deep-frying and air-frying, Kulkarni said, “Foods which are deep-fried are not as healthy as air-fried foods. It takes a good amount of oil, whereas in air-frying, there is lesser use and consumption of oil.”

“To put it in simple terms, less oil,less complication. If it is air-fried, it is a little bit healthier than the traditional way of deep frying it. It is the same with any other junk food, like chips,” he added.

“In the report, they have includedthe entire food processing industry. It needs deliberation, discussion and detailed assessment before implementing in the industry,” Kulkarni stated.

S Jindal, president, All India Food Processors’ Association, said, “Food products high in fat, sugar and salt are not a matter of regulation, but of consumer awareness. Generic publicity is required to sensitise consumers as to what is suitable to whom, under what circumstances, with which lifestyle, under a specific medical preposition, climate, geographical location, nature of job,age, etc.”

“It should be left to the consumers what they think is suitable to eat.The government's initiative should be to develop awareness and not force superficial controls through law. It will be counterproductive and never work,” he added.

“As regardschildren, the parents should be made aware what food they need to give their children in order to get the desired nutrition. Awareness generation should begin at school in the early stages backed up by parental care and guidance,” Jindal said.
 
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