Consumer organisations have urged the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) to hold wider consultations with stakeholdersbefore introducing Health Star Rating (HSR) labelling for packaged food products. 

Consumer Unity & Trust Society (CUTS), Jaipur, Consumer Voice, New Delhi, and Citizen consumer and civic Action Group (CAG), Chennai have questioned the decision of  FSSAI in going ahead with the HSR label without proper consultation with the stakeholders and that too when processes are in the initial stages, they said in a statement. 

‘Based on a single study’

CUTS, Consumer Voice and CAG are part of the FoPL (front of packet labelling) stakeholder group of FSSAI. The organisations point out FSSAI’s decision to introduce HSR was based on only one study. “It’s not prudent on the part of FSSAI to take such an important regulatory decision just based on a single study,” they added. 

The activists felt that FSSAI needs to give equal or even more importance to the recent findings of the medical fraternity of AIIMS institutions which suggests that warning labels are most suitable for the Indian context as it deters consumers from consuming packaged food that is high in salt, sugar and fats. 

George Cheriyan, Director, CUTS International, and a member of Food Authority (FSSAI) as a special invitee, stated that there’s a proper timeline for the formation of any regulation by FSSAI. 

“Once a final decision is taken during stakeholder consultation it is forwarded to the Scientific Panel, who then makes a recommendation. After a series of approvals and legal vetting from Ministries of Health and Law, the draft, finally, is published in the gazette,” he pointed out. 

Threat of NCDs

Ashim Sanyal, Chief Operating Officer and Secretary, Consumer Voice and a member of the Central Advisory Committee of FSSAI, slammed the idea to provide almost five years for industries to shift from voluntary label to mandatory label.  

“It sounds ridiculous. Nowhere in the world could one hear of granting food companies such a long period for making the required shift, especially when cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes and other noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) are taking the lives of the Indian consumers,” he added. 

“Consumers, especially from the districts, rarely look for star labels on products, said Saroja Sundaram, Executive Director, Citizen consumer and civic Action Group (CAG), a member of the Council of Consumers International. 

She added that with the recent findings by the Council of Energy, Environment & Water (CEEW), which stated that barely 25 per cent of the Indian population are aware of energy star labels that are in existence in the market for the past fifteen plus years.  

The consumer activists also pointed out that the HSR label, which the IIM-A study recommends, is adopted in Australia and New Zealand and the experience from both countries is disappointing.