Front of Package Label (FOPL) is becoming a hot topic in our country. Civil society organisations, activists, nutritionists and even the industry players agree to the fact that awareness among consumers could reduce the health-risks. The idea behind such campaigning is very basic: Packaged foods and beverages should have mandatory and science backed Front of Pack warning labels (FoPL) to help consumers make healthy and safe decision.
At a consultation held in New Delhi, industry representative, civil society representatives, political leaders and intellectuals collectively called on FSSAI to make the right decision and adopt a label that would positively impact lives of millions of Indians. This event was organised at the Gandhi Peace Foundation. The programme was organised by PVCHR, PIPAL, Savitri Bai Phule Mahila Panchayat, IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, Jal Jan Jodo Abhiyan and ICongo.
What is FOPL: Front of Pack Labels (FoPL) are simplified, decipherable information of certain nutrients of concern like fat, salt and sugar on pre-packed or processed foods. FoPL is designed to help consumers identify and compare between products at the point of purchase. The information on FoPL therefore needs to be placed in such a manner that the information is noticeable and easily understandable.
This gathering of senior MPs, industry representatives and civil society comes at a time when FSSAI’s purported choice of ‘health star rating’ over ‘warning labels’ preferred by public health experts and corroborated as the FOPL of choice by multiple research and studies, is being debated and Child rights activists and consumer bodies from all over the country have written to the lawmakers seeking their intervention for the good of the country.
Calling the results of the latest National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5) an alarm bell, Dr Pradip Agarwal, AIIMS Rishikesh said, “India is soon going to have the dubious distinction of becoming the world capital of diabetes and childhood obesity. All NCDs are on a steep rise. An observational study conducted by AIIMS from all four corners of India has found that people would most benefit from warning labels.”
Citing the recent randomized control field experiment spanning six states conducted by International Institute for Population Sciences (IIPS), India’s premier research and learning institute known for its landmark surveys like the National Family Health Survey (NFHS), Dr SK Singh said, “People have spoken, corroborating the science that we have known all along.
Visually arresting, simple, negative warning labels will convey information about the healthfulness of a product and at the same time influence purchasing decisions. Warning labels were the only FOPL that led to a significant change in consumer purchasing decision towards healthier products. It relayed nutrition information most effectively and as we know from past evidence, message delivered well always results in behaviour change. I am truly hopeful that this important study will influence FSSAI’s decision as it considers an FOPL that is best for India.”
While delivering the keynote address, Shri Ashok Thakur, Director, National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India Ltd.(NAFED) spoke in support of stringent health warning on unhealthy packaged foods that clearly specifies that there is high level of fats, sugar or salt in them. “The whole world is watching as India takes a decision on FOPL. We cannot afford to lose any more time and must choose what is best for the health of Indians. Experts, including top doctors have confirmed that clear warning labels will be the best possible measure to guide consumers and protect them from making harmful food choices.”
Lenin Raghuvanshi and Shruti Nagvanshi – the co-founders of People’s Vigilance Committee on Human Rights- cited several studies calling for immediate action by the authorities. Dr. Lenin Raghuvanshi has recently been awarded by the Canadian Government for his continuous work on improving human lives across the country.
The food and beverage industry in India is one of the world’s largest with a sale volume of 34 million tons. Studies have shown that in Indian households – both urban and rural, 53% of children consume salted packaged food such as chips and instant noodles, 56% consume sweet packaged food such as chocolates and ice cream and 49% children consumed sugar-sweetened packaged beverages at an average of over twice a week. Experts have raised alarm that such unhealthy diet is responsible for more deaths worldwide than any other risk factor, and is a leading cause of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
Shailendra Dubey, Vice President Akhil Bahrtiya Grahak Panchayat said, “World over the food industry is taking steps to ensure that their products are safe and healthy for the consumers. If the government decides to adopt warning labels, we are prepared to go along with that decision. Studies have indicated that reformulation to make food and beverages healthier does not impact profit nor does it lead to job losses.”
Speaking from her experience in countries such as Chile, Brazil, Mexico and Argentina, Vandana Shah, Regional Director, Global Health Advocacy Incubator (GHAI) said, “India has the opportunity to introduce what is one of the most effective double duty action – an effective FOPL geared towards improvement of public health. Warning labels are the most effective FOP labelling system to date. They work by helping consumers identify unhealthy products in a quick and simple way and by discouraging them to buy.
Other prominent speakers from various civil society organisations demanded urgent policy action on FOPL to safeguard the health and nutrition rights of children. The programme was moderated by Lenin Raghuvanshi and conceptualized by Shruti Nagvanshi. About 150 people from various states of India participated in the event.
Here is the Hindi version of the Event Report: उद्योग जगत ने विज्ञान आधारित खाद्य पैकेजिंग पर चेतावनी लेबल का दिया समर्थन