From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Health Star Rating System, FOPL
Mains level : Not Much
The “health star rating” system that the Food Safety Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) plans to adopt in order to help consumers reduce their intake of unhealthy foods has been opposed by close to a dozen consumer and health advocacy groups.
What is the Health Star Rating System?
- In February, the FSSAI decided to adopt the “health-star rating system”, which gives a product 1/2 a star to 5 stars, in its draft regulations for front of package labelling (FOPL).
- The HSR format ranks a packaged food item based on salt, sugar, and fat content and the rating will be printed on the front of the package.
- The underlying premise of the HSR is that positive ingredients such as fruits and nuts can offset negative nutrients such as calories, saturated fat, total sugar, sodium to calculate the number of stars ascribed to a product.
- The decision was based on the recommendations of a study by the IIM-Ahmedabad the regulator had commissioned in September 2021.
- In the same meeting, the regulator decided that FOPL implementation could be made voluntary for a period of four years.
What is FoPL?
- In India, packaged food has had back-of-package (BOP) nutrient information in detail but no FoPL.
- Counter to this, FoPL can nudge people towards healthy consumption of packaged food.
- It can also influence purchasing habits.
- The study endorsed the HSR format, which speaks about the proportions of salt, sugar, and fat in food that is most suited for consumers.
- Countries such as the UK, Mexico, Chile, Peru, Hungary, and Australia have implemented FoPL systems.
What warranted the HSR rating in India?
- Visual bluff: A lot of Indian consumers do not read the information available at the back of the packaged food item.
- Burden of NCDs: Also, India has a huge burden of non-communicable diseases that contributes to around 5.87 million (60%) of all deaths in a year.
- Healthy dietary choices: HSR will encourage people to make healthy choices and could bring a transformational change in the society.
- Supreme Court order: A PIL seeking direction to the government to frame guidelines on HSR and impact assessment for food items and beverages was filed in the Supreme Court in June 2021.
Which category of food item will have HSR?
- All packaged food items or processed food will have the HSR label.
- These will include chips, biscuits, namkeen, sweets and chocolates, meat nuggets, and cookies.
- However, milk and its products such as chenna and ghee are EXEMPTED as per the FSSAI draft notified in 2019.
Will there be pushback from food industry?
- Negative warning: Some experts opposed the use of the HSR model in India, suggesting that consumers might tend to take this as an affirmation of the health benefits rather than as a negative warning of ill effects.
- Lack of awareness: This is significant because there is lack of awareness on star ratings related to consumer products in India.
- Impact on Sale: Certain organisations fear it might affect the sale of certain food products.
Arguments against health star rating
- Experts argue that “warning labels” instead have been most effective in various countries.
- They said the HSR system adopted in countries like Australia and New Zealand has not resulted in any meaningful behavior change.
- Even after eight years of their implementation, there is still no evidence of HSRs having a significant impact on the nutritional quality of people’s food and beverage purchases.
- Also, the HSR system “misrepresents nutrition science”.
- The algorithm of adding and subtracting nutrients does not fit with our understanding of biology.
- For example, the presence of fruit in a fruit drink juice does not offset the impacts of added sugar in the body.