Nutrition rating stars set to appear soon on food pack labels

Amanda Gerla

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), the country’s apex food regulator, has released draft notification for front-of-pack labelling to discourage consumers from buying packaged food high in sugar, salt, and fat, which will require pre-packaged food to carry a star graphic — ranging for 0 to 5 — next to the brand name.

Like the star-rating system for energy efficiency of electronic products, the ‘Indian Nutrition Rating (INR)’ will see the unhealthiest food items carry a 0-star rating and the healthiest carry a 5-star rating.

The draft notification comes even as several health experts have questioned the star-rating system, contending that a warning symbol on foods high in sugar, salt, and fat are more likely to discourage people from consuming them.

As per the draft notification, items will be given scores based on contribution of energy and content of saturated fat, sugar, sodium, fruit and vegetables (FV), nuts, legumes, and millets (NLM), dietary fibre, and protein per 100 gm of solid or 100 ml liquid foods. Solid food with a score of more than 25 will be given 0.5 stars, and those with a score less than – (minus)11 will get 5 stars.

“The INR system rates the overall nutritional profile for packaged food by assigning it a rating from ½ star (least healthy) to 5 stars (healthiest). More stars indicate the food product is better positioned to provide for daily human need of nutrients. The logo shall be displayed close in proximity to the name or brand name of the product on front of pack,” the notification stated.

Although not mandatory, the notification stated that food businesses may add interpretive information next to the star-rating logo, giving details of energy, sugar, saturated fat, and salt content. To generate the star-rating logo for the product, food businesses have to submit nutritional profiles of the products concerned on FSSAI’s FoSCoS (Food Safety Compliance System) portal.

Food such as milk and milk products, whey, butter oil, ghee, vegetable oil and fat, fresh and frozen fruit and vegetables, fresh and frozen meat, egg, fish, flour, and sweeteners will not have to display the star rating. Carbonated beverages without any energy or sugar will also not be eligible for declaring the rating, according to the notification.

People have been asked to send their objections or suggestions to the chief executive officer of FSSAI at the Authority’s office or email at [email protected] for 60 days.

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With contentions on the type of front-of-pack labelling, FSSAI had decided to go with the star-rating system based on a survey it had commissioned to the IIM, with a sample size of 20,500 people. Experts, including the likes of Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) president Dr K Srinath Reddy, have questioned the findings of the IIM report and said that a warning label is likely to be more effective.

A position paper by the experts released earlier this year had noted that there was a change in consumption pattern in several Latin American countries that implemented such warning labels, and that Chile reported a 24% drop in sugary drink consumption. It said that a meta-analysis of 100 studies published last year indicated that nutrient warning labels are more effective than traffic lights and nutri-scrore labels.

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