Food firms need to manufacture healthier options

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

© iStock
© iStock

Related tags Nutrition

A research report has slammed India’s biggest food and beverage manufacturers for not fighting hard enough to combat over- and undernutrition.

The in-depth study found that while society faces an uphill battle against malnutrition, only 12% of beverages and 16% of foods manufactured by the majors contain high-quality nutrients.

The largest F&B manufacturers in India are falling far short of what they need to do to help fight the enduring and mounting double-burden of malnutrition in India​,” it said.

Manufacturers have a “responsibility​” to be part of a process to find a solution to problems caused by diet, said Inge Kauer, executive director of the Access to Nutrition Foundation (ATNF), which compiled the report.

India faces serious and escalating malnutrition, with a large undernourished population as well as growing numbers of overweight and obese people who are developing chronic diseases​,” Kauer said.

The foundation said it hoped that its India Spotlight Index would encourage manufacturers to ramp up production of nutritious foods and to “responsibly exercise their substantial influence on consumer choice and behaviour​” to improve diets across India.

The study ranked Mother Dairy first in the “Product Profile​” category, based on a product portfolio adjudged to be the healthiest of the all 10 companies assessed. 

Nestlé India topped the “Corporate Profile​” ranking, sealing first place for its “policies, practices and disclosure on nutrition and undernutrition​”.

Yet the tone of the report was less of celebration and more of indictment as it called on companies to “adopt and disclose their nutrition strategies and policies​”. It demanded that multinationals in particular improve the nutritional quality of their products.

Nine of the companies had posted a commitment to combat undernutrition but most companies produced very few fortified foods, it found.

Stricter regulation and more vigilant monitoring of breast-milk substitutes provided a backdrop for the eight companies in this category that were found broadly to comply with the law. Nevertheless, several instances of questionable marketing were identified, such as promotions by online retailers and product labels that include promotional wording.

The authors called on manufacturers to integrate nutrition into their core business strategies, and commit to increasing the number of healthy products they manufacture, using fortified staple foods as ingredients and targeting specific nutrient deficiencies. 

They also demanded formal industry policies to ensure the affordability and accessibility of healthy foods and the adoption of strict marketing policies that allow only healthy foods to be marketed to children.

ATNF said it hoped that “scores of F&B manufacturers in India will have increased their functional production significantly​” by the time its next India Spotlight Index is published in 2018. This, it said would reflect “their acceptance that they have a central role to play in tackling the double burden of malnutrition in India​.”

The country’s food regulator, the FSSAI has already proposed making fortified food mandatory for public food programmes.

We are in discussions with various ministries and industry and working on setting up standards and how to make large-scale food fortification a reality​,” said Pawan Kumar Agarwal, the FSSAI’s chief executive, who officially released the ATNF report.

Related topics Policy Food safety South Asia

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