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Food labelling needs a fix in India, says expert

By Ankush Chibber , 30-Jul-2012
Last updated on 30-Jul-2012 at 15:33 GMT

Indian food labelling regulations need a sweeping review if products are to provide valuable information, a food industry experts has said.

Speaking at the 3rd Functional Food and Beverages India conference in Mumbai on July 26, D B Anantha Narayana, former head of herbal research at FMCG major Hindustan Unilever, said that current labelling labelling laws for packaged foods in the country were not effective in communicating relevant information to consumers.

“There is an information overload and too much of repetitive information on food packaging in India. This tends to confuse the consumer too much,” Narayana said.

Too much on the packet

“Current labelling norms see two or three different panels on packaging in two or more ways. To add to this, companies want to make claims on packaging in language that tends to confuse the customer,” he said.

The Ministry of Consumer Affairs is concerned about what information consumers are getting from food labels, he said, and   has approached the government and the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) to review labelling laws in the country.

Repetitive information is another nuisance, said Narayana. For example, all the ingredients mentioned in an ingredients panel are then repeated in another box that says, “Contains Permitted Flavors” or “Contains Synthetic Colors.”

Companies are also confused about additives, as regulators have published no clear list of permitted additives for use yet, even as a process of indigenization of the CODEX is on, he said.

Nutrition labelling not clear for companies, or consumers

On nutrition labelling, Narayana said, that there is no clarity as to what norms to follow. Some companies are following the US Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) while others are going by the Indian RDAs.

According to Narayana, the National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) has published Indian RDAs for vitamins and minerals, which has been gazetted by the government, and is up for adoption by Indian companies.There is a consumer survey that was conducted in the northern state of Punjab that suggested nutrition labelling in India has been ineffective, Narayana said.

“The respondents said they tended to believe that the higher the figures on the nutrition panel, the more nutritious the product is. So they believed that more the sodium, potassium, or trans fats, the better it was!” he said.

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