Labelling System is Effective in Identifying Harmful Nutrients


    In News

    • Recently, a new study in India found that warning labels on food packets are most effective in helping consumers identify foods high in sugar, saturated fat and sodium as compared to other labelling formats.

    About the Study

    • Background: 
      • The study comes at a time when the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) is expected to issue its draft regulation on front-of-package labelling (FOPL).
      • The study was published in the open access journal Nutrients.
      • FSSAI has indicated that it favors Health Star Rating (HSR), earning the ire of public health experts who have accused it of favouring the food industry.
    • Random Experiment: 
      • It was conducted on 2,869 adults in six States in India, where participants were shown food packets with one of five FOPLs:
        • A control label (barcode), 
        • Nutrient-specific warning label  (octagon symbol indicating whether the product was high in salt/sugar or saturated fat), 
        • Health Star Rating, 
        • Guideline for daily amount (GDA) that gives nutritional content information) or 
        • Traffic light label (indicating red, amber or green levels of nutrients of concern). 
    • Key Findings:
      • It found that on most parameters, the HSR format was least effective.
      • The study found that most participants were able to identify a nutrient of concern when they were presented a packet with a warning label.
        • However, the study found that warning labels did not significantly reduce intentions to purchase unhealthy packaged products.

    Significance of Labelling System

    • Caution for Customers: If the government is serious about the epidemic of obesity and non-communicable diseases, the consumer needs to be cautioned about junk foods through ‘warning’ labels.
    • Healthy choice: Warning signs educate consumers about harmful ingredients present in a food product and help them make healthy choices. 
    • Informed decision: They also give a repetitive educational message so that even for domestic cooking or buying street food that warning bell goes off. 
    • Easy to Understand: The display of star ratings was recommended by a study conducted by IIM Ahmedabad to make it easier for customers to understand. The system will be similar to the one that is being used by the Bureau of Energy Efficiency for assessing the energy efficiency in electrical devices.
    • Educate consumers: It will educate consumers about the nutrition profile of the food they are consuming.

    Way Ahead

    • There is a need to reinforce any FOPL policy with a robust and focused communications campaign to increase consumer awareness and understanding
    • India needs to adopt a suitable strategy based on evidence to make consumers aware of nutrients of concern. 
    • The recommendations for warning labels need to be adopted soon.


    Front of Package Labelling (FoPL) system

    • The rating will be the first such in India, a country burdened with lifestyle diseases.
    • Aim: Guiding consumers to opt for healthy food.
    • It rates the overall nutritional profile of packaged food and assigns it a rating from half a star to five stars. 
    • The decision was based on an Indian Institute of Management (IIM)-Ahmedabad study commissioned by the FSSAI. 
    • Front-of-pack labelling on packaged foods was first recommended by the FSSAI-led committee formed in 2013. 

    Health Star Rating

    • It is a front-of-pack labelling system that rates the overall nutritional profile of packaged food and assigns it a rating from ½ a star to 5 stars. 
    • It provides a quick, easy, standard way to compare similar packaged foods. The more stars, the healthier the choice.
    • The number of stars is determined using a calculator designed to assess positive and risk nutrients in food (The Health Star Rating Calculator). The algorithm that drives the calculator was developed in consultation with Food Standards Australia New Zealand and other technical and nutrition experts.

    FSSAI Major Initiatives

    • Heart Attack Rewind: It is aimed to support FSSAI’s target of eliminating trans fat in India by the year 2022.
    • Repurpose Used Cooking Oil (RUCO): To enable the collection and conversion of used cooking oil to biodiesel.
    • FSSAI-CHIFSS:  It is collaboration between FSSAI and CII-HUL Initiative on Food Safety Sciences to promote collaborations between Industry, Scientific Community, Academia for food safety.
    • Swasth Bharat Yatra:  It is a Pan-India cycle movement called ‘Eat Right India’ aimed to create consumer awareness about eating safe and nutritious food.

    Source: TH