Recognising that packaged foods have adverse health effects, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has expressed “profound concern” and sought a response from the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) on the selection of the front-of-pack food labels which should provide consumers with information to make healthier choices.

The NHRC issued this directive on a complaint filed on September 14, 2021, by Shruti Nagvanshi and Shirin Shabana Khan on behalf of the Peoples’ Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR) and Savitri Bai Phule Mahila Panchayat of Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, the PVCHR said in a media release.

The Commission, as per the PVCHR, issued the first notice on October 11, 2021, to the Secretary, Health & Family Welfare, Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, seeking a response to the complaint. On September 20, 2022, the FSSAI introduced the Front of Pack Labelling (FOPL) draft regulation and subsequently invited public comment, after the Commission issued a notice to the food regulator’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) on February 9., the PVCHR informed

Consumer’s right

Shruti Nagvanshi, co-complainant and Convenor of Savitri Bai Phule Mahila Panchayat, said they approached the NHRC to assert that consumers have the right to know what they are eating since packaged food products with high levels of sugar, salt, or fats are a primary cause of health problems.

“A clear warning on the front-of-pack (FOPL) is the only way to protect our children and people from catastrophic health consequences. While FSSAI has introduced a draft regulation and proposed a certain type of FOPL, it is not the best choice for the people. We need a clear warning and not a misleading star-based rating system,” she stated.

Lenin Raghuvanshi, Founder and Convenor of PVCHR, also said, “In the interest of public health, it would be appropriate for FSSAI to abandon the idea of a star rating. An alert or warning label is the need of the hour. For over two years now, members of the PIPAL network (People’s Initiative for Participatory Action on Food Labeling) have been advocating the protection of a child’s right to healthy food and a healthy life”.