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Expert panel paves the way for wide-ranging anti-junk food measures

Post a commentBy RJ Whitehead , 09-May-2017

© iStock
© iStock

A panel of experts has recommended extra taxes on highly refined foods and soft drinks, as well as a ban on junk-food advertising on children’s television.

The recommendations of the 11-member panel, which had been tasked by the FSSAI to suggest ways to cut consumption of unhealthy products, will now be sent for public consultation.

"The report recommended having balanced a diet which should provide around 60-70% of total calories from carbohydrate, 10-12% from protein and 20-30% from fat," the regulator said in a statement.

The panel, comprised of doctors, nutritionists and academics, called for an "additional tax on highly processed commodities and sugar-sweetened beverages".

"Imposing additional taxes on the purchase of commodities such as pre-packaged foods with high salt and fat content, sugar-sweetened beverages etc. can be a pragmatic approach to reduce their intake," their report said.

It was their belief that a levy along these lines “would lead to positive health effects among population”. Proceeds from such a tax could be used to pay for government nutritional programmes, the panel suggested.

They also urged an ban on advertising foods high in fat, salt and sugar aimed at children: “In fact, we should progress towards a total-ban law, as being done in a few other countries like Chile."

Moreover, they singled out addressing the controversial topic of celebrity food and beverage endorsements, and recommended that any advertising limitations should also cover social media and websites.

Packaged foods are among the top advertisers for TV channels, though food companies and television stations have been unequivocal that the majority of brands steer away from promoting their high-fat, high-sugar products through the medium.

Speaking to Livemint, one TV executive said junk food accounted for just a fraction of all children’s advertising. 

For certain products, kids channels are the primary source of revenue. But many responsible packaged food brands are already following the norm of not advertising unhealthy foods on kids channels. The impact won’t be more than 10% to a kids channel at best,” Ashish Bhasin, chairman of, Dentsu Aegis Network said.

The FSSAI has urged companies to voluntarily reformulate their food products to reduce fat, sugar and salt. Most of India’s food majors have yet to comment on the expert panel’s proposals.

 

More from South Asia…

Court demands better monitoring of railway foodservice

India’s government has been ordered to explain how it intends to monitor and improve the hygiene and quality of food on the country’s railways, following a court ruling.

Having been petitioned by a former employee of India’s expansive rail network, the Delhi High Court issued a notice to the railway ministry, telling it to ensure platform and on-track food services stick to the regulations governed by the Food Safety and Standards Act.

The petitioner, Sardar Jagjit Singh, a retired food inspector, said urgent measures were needed to guarantee the safety of foods sold at restaurants, stalls and staff canteens run by the national rail companies, as well as through onboard caterers.

His lawyer claimed that cases of adulterated foods have been rife. Citing a TV news report on the situation, KC Mittal said: “The worst is the insensitivity and the failure on the part of the respondents to take adequate steps to ensure sale and supply of unadulterated, wholesome and hygienic food to 23m passengers who travel everyday by train in different parts of the country.”

Singh alleged that better monitoring was needed by rail companies and public contractors. 

The case will be heard in the High Court next week.

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