A Public Interest Litigation has been filed in the Supreme Court, seeking direction to the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) to examine the WHO Recommendations on Fat, Salt and Sugar Intake, the Guidelines on ‘Health Impact Assessment’ and the ‘Health Star Rating System’ used in the US, Australia, and New Zealand and prepare a detailed report within three months.
The petitioner also sought direction to the Centre to frame Rules/Guidelines to ensure that ‘Health Star Rating’ is printed on the front of the packaging and make ‘Health Impact Assessment and Environment Impact Assessment’ mandatory for the industries producing food items and beverages and to implement the Guidelines on ‘Health Star Rating, Health Impact Assessment and Environment Impact Assessment’ religiously.
The PIL has been filed by Advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay through Ashwini Kumar Dubey.
According to the PIL, facts constituting the cause of action accrued on January 1, 2021, when SFFAI published the Nutrient (Fat, Sugar and Sodium) Threshold Study of Packaged Food and the petitioner found that threshold limit is not in consonance with the WHO recommendations.
The plea said the difference between nutrient threshold and baseline nutrient values are significantly high across the categories and the Centre has not taken steps to control fat, sugar and sodium content in pre-packaged food products and beverages. Therefore, re-assessment of threshold values must consider the variation for each category separately.
The petitioner submitted that the difference between nutrient thresholds and baseline nutrient values varies significantly across different categories and FSSAI neither conducts Health Impact Assessment nor implemented Health Star Rating.
It said healthy diet is necessary to prevent all forms of malnutrition (wasting, stunting, inadequate vitamins or minerals, overweight, obesity), as well as non-communicable diseases (heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancers) and lowers the risk of infectious diseases like COVID. FSSAI neither conducts Health Impact Assessment nor introduced Health Star Rating System so citizens are forced to consume food, high in energy, fats and sugars and less fiber rich food fruits juices vegetables and grains.
The Plea said that Risk of noncommunicable diseases (heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancers etc.) can be reduced by controlling saturated fats (found in fatty meat, butter, coconut oil, cream, cheese, ghee and lard) to less than 10% of total energy intake; reducing total trans fats (found in processed food, fast food, snack food, fried food, frozen pizza, pies, cookies, margarines, spreads) to less than 1% of total energy intake; and replacing both with unsaturated fats (found in fish, avocado, nuts, olive oil, soy, canola, sunflower and corn oils).
In the PIL it is mentioned that WHO suggests reducing salt consumption to the recommended level of less than 5 gram per day but citizens are forced to consume too much sodium through salt (corresponding to an average of 9–15 gram of salt per day) and not enough potassium and WHO suggests reducing intake of free sugars to less than 10% of total energy intake.
Australia and New Zealand uses “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 Star to 5 Stars. It provides a quick, easy, standard way to compare similar packaged foods. The more stars, the healthier choice. Most products carry a Nutrition Information Panel which provides important information about the contents of the food. Manufacturers work out the rating of their product by putting nutrition information into “Health Star Rating Calculator”. Choosing foods that are higher in positive nutrients and lower in risk nutrients that are linked to obesity and diet-related chronic diseases; (saturated fat, salt, sugars, energy), will help contribute to a balanced diet and lead to better health, the Petition highlights.
It is claimed that if Centre introduces rule to display a warning on the packet of the food items which have excess of fat, sugar or salt in them, citizens might be able to stop spread of various non-communicable diseases such as obesity and cholesterol which are caused due to consuming such food. Such measures have been implemented in many countries as well and the change was evident from the first year, resulting in a drop of 3-15% in the cases of such diseases.
The Petitioner alleged that in India, 60% of total deaths are caused due to the lifestyle which involves problematic working hours and use of junk food items. In Mexico alone, this system leads to a decline of 15% in obesity which estimates at around 15 lakh people, whereas in the US, when such warning was displayed on sweet drinks, it caused a 3.1% decline.
“Directives are nevertheless fundamental in the governance of our country and it is duty of the State to apply these principles in making laws. Article 39 states that health and strength of workers, men and women, and children must not be abused which seems to be exact situation. The companies are selling any product as long as the market is ripe for them. This is causing numerous diseases in youth which is the future of the country and cannot be risked and squandered away at the hands of these harmful products.
Article 47 directs the State to raise the nutrition level as well as the overall health of the public and the State must do everything in its power to achieve it. Not only intoxicating drinks and drugs but also soft drinks, high-calorie food, food with high amounts of salt, sugar and fat are also deteriorating the health of the citizens and therefore immediate steps are required to curtail this problem,” the Petition read.