Concerns raised over ‘front group’ representatives on Indian regulator’s decision-making boards

By Pearly Neo contact

- Last updated on GMT

Concerns have been raised over the inclusion of ILSI representatives on boards making crucial decisions within FSSAI, amid claims it is too close to major F&B firms, especially junk food manufacturing ones. ©Getty Images
Concerns have been raised over the inclusion of ILSI representatives on boards making crucial decisions within FSSAI, amid claims it is too close to major F&B firms, especially junk food manufacturing ones. ©Getty Images

Related tags: Fssai, India, Junk food

Concerns have been raised over the inclusion of representatives from the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) on boards making crucial decisions within the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), amid claims it is too close to major food and beverage firms.

ILSI is the same group implicated in a recent study claiming that Coca-Cola shaped China’s policies to suit its own interests​. Critics have called it a ‘front group’ for various food and beverage giants including Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Nestle and Pepsi.

In a letter to FSSAI CEO Pawan Agarwal last month, which FoodNavigator-Asia ​has viewed, India Resource Center (IRC) Coordinator Amit Srivastava implored the food safety regulatory body to reconsider the presence of ILSI representatives on its decision-making boards, citing a ‘conflict of interest’​.

“ILSI […] acts as a front group for food, beverage and agrichemical companies. [Its Indian chapter] counts Coca-Cola India’s Director of Regulatory Affairs as its Treasurer, and representatives from Nestle and Ajinomoto among its board of directors,” ​wrote Srivastava.

“Not surprisingly, ILSI has organised conferences in India downplaying the role of sugar and diet, and promoting increased physical activity as the solution to obesity.

“What is particularly disturbing is the central involvement of key FSSAI functionaries – who are meant to regulate these junk food companies – in the ILSI organisation itself.”

He is concerned that ILSI members sit on FSSAI panels governing pesticdes, additives, flavourings, processing, functionals foods and nutraceuticals.

Regulator vs Regulated

Adding that ILSI represents the food industry (the regulated) and FSSAI is the primary government regulator of this, he added that it was vital the two remained separate.

 “{Some people] are representing the industry front group, ILSI, and their inclusion in the scientific panel runs counter to the Food Safety and Standards Act 2006 [and violates the spirit and intent of the 2011 Supreme Court decision ordering FSSAI to exclude food industry representatives from the scientific panels],”​ he stressed.

FoodNavigator-Asia​ has contacted FSSAI for comment. A spokeswoman informed us that although the agency has no formal statement or comment at present, the technical groups mentioned will be meeting later this month, whereupon the issue is likely to be discussed.

What is ‘junk food’?

Separately, Indian Minister of State of Health and Family Welfare Ashwini Kumar Choubey informed the Lok Sabha (India’s lower house of parliament) that the country’s Food Safety and Standards Act and Regulations do not define what the term ‘junk food’ comprises.

According to OneIndia, ​what this would mean is that the ‘door has been left open’​ for companies and institutions (such as ILSI) to ‘manipulate [the] country's health policies in connivance of government officials’​.

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