Industry body against food regulator’s front-of-package labeling proposal

New Delhi: Indian Sellers Collective, an umbrella body of trade associations and sellers across the country, on Wednesday opposed the food regulator’s proposal on regulation of front-of-package nutrition labeling (FOPNL ), claiming it could put traditional Indian snack and drink makers on their backs.

“The representative body claimed that FOPNL would lead to Indian ethnic foods being classified as unhealthy, cause serious business losses for MSME packaged food manufacturers and sellers and open the floodgates for Western packaged foods to capture markets Indians,” the association said in a statement on Wednesday.

Under the proposed FOPNL, packaged foods and beverages will be assigned stars such as “one star foods”, “two star foods”, and therefore “good food”, “not good food”, etc. depending on their salt, sugar and fat content. India’s main food regulator, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India or FSSAI, has issued a draft notice on front-of-package labeling of packaged food products in a bid to regulate their content of fat, sugar and salt.

Since traditional Indian cuisine uses salt, sugar and fat, for various scientific and customary reasons, these items will be conspicuously marked “unhealthy” according to the proposed mathematical calculation and star rating system expression, which which will lead consumers to reject them, the industry association said.

Admittedly, the Indian packaged food and beverage industry is dominated by foods such as bhujiya, dhokla and murukku; sweets like gulab jamun, ras malai and barfi or soft drinks like nimbu panni, lassi etc.

The industry association added that the regulations could favor multinational food companies which may be better equipped to change the nutritional composition of their food products to achieve a better health rating. For example, large snack companies might add nuts and fruit to their existing product to gain favorable ratings; similar changes can be made to beverages.

“Major distributors and retailers that thrive on collaborations with multinationals and big food companies will continue to sell reconstituted western packaged foods in India as the adoption of FONPL will continue to destroy the market for traditional Indian packaged foods. However, the millions of small independent vendors who largely depend on MSME makers and traditional packaged Indian snacks to earn a living, will have no recourse, thus threatening their very survival,” said Dhairyashil Patil, Chairman of All India Consumer Products Distributors Federation (AICPDF).

The draft FSSAI notification also provides a list of solid foods and liquid foods that will be exempt from FOPNL. The exemption list ignores food categories of Indian origin and instead pushes Western products high in sugar, salt and fat, he added.

India’s food processing industry accounts for 32% of the country’s total food market, according to industry estimates. The majority of India’s processed food market is concentrated in Tier II and Tier III cities. Almost 79% of this market is dominated by MSME players. The rollout of the front-of-package nutrition labeling regulations could pose a threat to small manufacturers.

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