05 May 2022, New Delhi: The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India’s (FSSAI) plan to label ultra-processed foods with “health stars” on Wednesday led 22 public health and consumer organisations to question the rationale behind a rating system that they claimed would “mislead and confuse consumers” rather than provide clarity on nutritional value.
Health star rating is a front-of pack labelling system that assigns half a star to five stars to indicate the nutritional profile of packaged foods. More stars indicate a healthier profile. The processed foods industry is all for such ratings, but public health and consumer groups want mandatory warning labels on the packaging of unhealthy ultra-processed food products that are high in salt, sugar or fats.
Dr Srinath Reddy of the Public Health Foundation of India said star ratings could be misleading as they do not clearly inform the consumers whether the rating is for specific constituents, taste or shelf life. He said the plea to FSSAI to adopt warning labels was entirely appropriate and in public interest.
Indian Academy of Paediatrics, the largest association of paediatricians with 35,000 members across India, has endorsed warning labels on packaged foods. “The food industry might like the stars on unhealthy food products but we believe warning labels should be used as this is what scientific evidence tells us,” said Dr Remesh Kumar, the organisation’s head.
Referring to FSSAI’s announcement that it would go ahead with the health star rating in its draft regulation on labelling of food packages, Vandana Prasad, a paediatrician working with Public Health Resource Network, pointed out that there was stronger evidence that warning labels can impact consumer behaviour towards more healthy diets.