FSSAI’s star ratings
- December 9, 2022
- Posted by: OptimizeIAS Team
- Category: DPN Topics
FSSAI’s star ratings
Subject: Government Schemes
News : FSSAI’s star ratings for food products may mislead consumers: experts ; Experts say IIM-Ahmedabad study is flawed in ‘design and interpretation’
- The rating will be the first such in India, a country burdened with lifestyle diseases, and is aimed at guiding consumers to opt for healthy food. 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 FSSAI, a body under the ministry of health and family welfare (MoHFW) had directed IIM-A to conduct a large-scale survey to analyse major FoP Labelling models that are available across the world and identify one which is easy to understand and can induce behaviour change among Indian consumers. In India, packaged food has had back-of-package (BOP) nutrient information in detail but no FoP Labelling, which, as global experience suggests, has the ability to nudge healthy consumption behaviour with respect to packaged food.
- Following the report, the FSSAI has sought feedback from industry associations for evaluation by a scientific panel so that the HSR model can be included in the draft regulation formulated by the government.
- The food regulator has exempted milk and dairy products from the proposed FoP Labelling, as they were in the earlier FSSAI draft notified in 2019. Also, the scientific panel has recommended voluntary implementation of FoP Labelling from 2023 and a transition period of four years for making it mandatory.
What are Health Star Ratings?
- Food product packaging is often confusing or distracting, particularly when there are so many different options available on supermarket shelves. This can make it hard to understand the nutritional value of products.
- The Health Star Rating system is a front of pack labelling system which helps you quickly and easily compare the nutrition of similar products that you typically see in the same part of the shop. The system provides a rating from a half to five stars – the more stars, the healthier the choice. When looking for the stars, remember that they are meant to provide a comparison within similar product categories only. For example, the system helps choose between one breakfast cereal and another, not between yoghurt and pasta sauce.
Front-of-Pack (FoP) Labelling System
- FoP labelling system has long been listed as one of the global best practices to nudge consumers into healthy food choices.
- In India, FoP labelling on packaged foods was recommended in 2014 by an expert committee constituted by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI). However, the country has not moved ahead on it towards bringing in a law. In 2019, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) had brought the spotlight on this concern by highlighting the fact that most of such junk foods would be labelled `red’ as per the draft FSSAI law.
- CSE also pointed towards the delays and dilutions in bringing forth the legislation, because of opposition from the powerful packaged food industry. The industry’s pressure tactics continue till date.
- Over the last year, the apex food regulator has been brainstorming with experts to launch FoPL in India. A petition 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 last year
- At present, countries such as the UK, Chile, Mexico, New Zealand, and Australia have FoPL.
Key points about Health Star Ratings:
- Packaged foods will have a number of stars displayed on them which will indicate whether the item is healthy or unhealthy. This ‘health start’ display on the package will help customers ascertain whether the packaged food is harmful or healthy.
- The star rating will be determined by the amount of fats, sugar, and salt in the food item.
- 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.
- The ratings will be placed in front of the packets as studies show that this method is much more effective towards affecting the choice of the consumer.
Why FSSAI want to adopt Health Start Rating?
- This move follows a report by the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad (IIM-A) on the impact of front-of-the-pack labelling for packaged and processed foods. The study endorsed the HSR format as the best suited to Indians in helping to choose healthier packaged food items under a new policy on Front of Packaging Labelling (FoPL).
- IIM-A has recommended HSR as the most preferred format by Indian consumers under proposed FoPL in India. This national survey by IIM-A is the voice of more than 20,000 people across the country and none of the countries in the world has surveyed people at such a large scale. FoPL will bring a transformational reform in the society as it will encourage healthy eating. It will also help to reduce the burden of Non- Communicable Diseases (NCDs) in the country.
Argument against :
- The move has upset public health experts who favour the warning label system such as a black-and-white stop symbol used in Chile or the red warning symbol in Israel for each of the three ingredients — salt, sugar and fat.
- “Warning signs educate consumers about harmful ingredients present in a food product and help them make healthy choices. They also give a repetitive educational message so that even for domestic cooking or buying street food the warning bell goes off.
- This educational component of a properly constructed warning system is missing in the health star[s] system, which are like a movie rating system and are of no use.
- According to the expert the system being proposed by the food regulator was “devious” as it misleads consumers about a product’s nutrition profile.
- Under the health star rating system, an algorithm assigns a product a certain number of stars based on “positive” components (fibre, protein, and fruit, vegetable, nut and legume content) balanced against other components (energy, sugars, sodium, and saturated fat).
- Experts argue that this is divorced from science as the presence of high quantities of sugar can’t be offset by the so-called positive ingredients.
- The system is not intended to replace general dietary advice, such as that provided by the FSSAI Guidelines, which recommend eating a balanced diet that includes a variety of nutritious foods every day.
- A high star rating doesn’t necessarily mean the product provides for a complete, balanced diet and should replace items from other core food groups or be eaten to excess.
- In addition, many healthy foods, like fresh fruit and vegetables and lean meats, are not generally packaged and will not display or will have a Health Star Rating. Fresh fruit and vegetables are now eligible to display a 5 star health rating.
- Instead of increasing packaging, food retailers are encouraged to use posters, shelf wobblers or other means to display the Health Star Rating