Label it right
“We can consider brown labelling on cola drinks,” says Dr B Sesikeran, chairperson of the labelling and claims advertisement panel of The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) in an email interview to Radhika Sachdev
There are market reports that fast-food chains McDonald’s and KFC, and packaged food brands like Lay’s chips and Maggi noodles reported normal sales after The Centre for Science and Environment come out with another damning study against these brands last month. What does this indicate? Consumer indifference, a saturation point in brand penetration? How would you react to the study findings?
Any food that has high level of saturated fatty acids (SAFA) and trans fatty acids (TFA), salt or sugar as well as high total fat is undesirable whether branded or not.
The FSSAI is working on a new set of labelling and packaging norms that have been put in public domain for comments and feedback. However manufacturers and marketers have always been able to exploit the grey areas and regulation that lag one step behind industry practices. How can this problem be tackled?
It can be tackled by educating the consumer, which is what we do.
One section of experts feel that food and safety laws in our country are fool-proof. What is lacking is enforcement. Do the new laws have stringent, penal clauses for non-compliance?
The FSSAI is implementing the new regulation very actively; the punishment for non-compliance is covered in the FSSAI 2006 Act.
Under a California state law, drinks containing a certain level of carcinogens are required to bear a cancer warning — caramel colour on their labels, thus putting pressure on the cola companies to change their chemical formula to avoid the cancer labelling. Is such a measure feasible in India, where cola companies are still a growing category?
The FSSAI can have a consultation with the industry and decide upon mutually acceptable way to address this problem.
Has any food manufacturer ever been convicted in India for misleading, non-scientific labelling? At worst, they are directed to pull out the ad. Without a precedent of class action suits and convictions, will the new labelling norms work in this country?
I don’t think any food manufacturer has been convicted but FSSAI does view false claims seriously and do take appropriate step against the Food Business Operator.
There are examples galore of such exaggerated claims — candy is promoted as fat-free, but no one bothers to inform the consumer that it’s also loaded with empty calories in the form of sugar. Breakfast cereal may promise the goodness of wholegrain, fibre and other nutrients, but they could be potentially dangerous for diabetic with their high level of sugar, fructose and corn syrup. What can be done to increase consumer awareness about these new categories of products?
Information, education and communication strategies can help. However, all that is packaged need not be viewed suspiciously.
Last but not least, how can labelling be simplified for the lay consumer? Most of the text is in English and almost none is medical jargon-free. The font size, the colour of the text also needs to be complied with. If not, where should the consumer complaint? Is there a single touch point with FSSAI’s complaint redressal window?
FSSAI has a scientific panel for Food Labelling and they discuss these points. Complaints can be addressed to CP, FSSAI or CEO, FSSAI. One can also complain to the State Food Commissioner.