The proposal from the apex medical council comes after the National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) recommended that the daily personal intake of salt be reduced from 8gto 6g as excess salt has been linked to hypertension and other problems.
Taking note of the fact that it is impossible to regulate the intake of salt in home-cooked food, the ICMR has suggested that it be made mandatory for packaged food manufacturers to gradually reduce the salt content in their offerings.
“The recommended reduction in consumption of salt is necessary as it poses a great health risk. Given that packaged food has high sodium content, and would be easier to regulate, we have decided to focus on it first,” the council said in a statement.
An official at the local (Mumbai) office of the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) confirmed that the regulator had received the medical council's recommendations.
“The advisory department has taken cognizance of the recommendations, I can confirm that, but there is no time frame that we know of in which any order in this regard will be issued and implemented,” he said.
He said there are low-level discussions on already between food industry representatives and the regulator for the former to begin using less salt in their packaged products.
However, it is expected that the regulator would settle with food manufacturers for a gradual rather than a sudden reduction in salt content as it may adversely affect consumption patterns and consequently revenues, he added.
The FSSAI is also keen that food manufacturers correctly and clearly display the salt content in their products on their packaging for consumers to make their own decision about the product, the official said.
A marketing manager with a major food manufacturer, which makes Indian salted snacks, said that given the Indian consumer's preference for taste over everything else, manufacturers would be hit by dropping salt levels.
“An Indian consumer might concede on consumption levels but not on the actual taste of the product. It will be a tricky time for packaged food makers if this rule comes to pass unless an alternative for salt is found and cleared for use,” he said.