The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) is in the process of examining thousands of responses from various stakeholders that it has received on the proposed health star ratings regulations on the front of the packet of packaged food products. The latest controversy over brand Bournvita has triggered a larger health debate on social media. It has also brought the spotlight on the proposed health star rating (HSR) regulations.

A senior FSSAI official said, “We have received more than 12,000 responses and comments from various stakeholders. These responses have been sent to a scientific panel, which is examining it.”

The food safety authority had first proposed these norms in 2018 for high fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) products. The regulation proposes to rank food products from 0.5-5 stars based on their nutritional profile. The food authority issued a draft on health star ratings in September, 2022 to seek stakeholders’ comments.

Divergent views

The draft regulations have evinced divergent views. Health activists and NGOs have been in favour of implementation of these norms with some asking for even more robust warning labels for HFSS products. On the other hand, many domestic food companies, especially MSMEs, have been stressing that the HSR in its current form will adversely impact India’s traditional and ethnic food sector.

“In countries such as Australia, health star ratings have been implemented in the voluntary format. In Chile, such regulations are mandatory. We will examine all aspects. We will have a detailed discussions with all stakeholders before any decisions are finalised,” the FSSAI official stated.  Once the regulations are finalised, they will be voluntary in nature for a period of four years, as per FSSAI’s proposal.

On Wednesday, Nutrition Advocacy in Public Interest (NAPi), a nutritional think-tank, tweeted, “Restricting aggressive marketing of #HFSS #UPFs (ultra-processed) food products with a policy framework is the key intervention. Putting onus on the consumers is unfair. Junk is pushed in our #diets through marketing and algorithms therefore mandatory warning #FOPL (front-of-the-pack) label is a must too!!”

On the other hand, a study released in December by Indian Sellers Collective, had pointed out that the health star ratings in its current form will “discredit” Indian ethnic food. For instance, products such as Mysore Pak, Peanut Chikki, Instant Poha and Mathura Peda will garner a rating of only 0.5 star (least healthy). Patisa and Soan Papdi will only get 1 star, the report had stated.