SJM co-convenor Ashwani Mahajan said health star ratings would not give consumers an understanding of the health risks.

RSS-affiliate Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM) has raised questions on the FSSAI’s move to introduce ‘health star ratings’ on the front-pack-labels of food items, saying that the food safety regulator should instead put cautionary warnings for an informed choice.

Speaking to PTI, SJM co-convenor Ashwani Mahajan said that health star ratings on packaged food items and beverages would not give consumers an understanding of the health risks.

Worry, he said, warning labels telling consumers whether the items contain sugar, salt, or saturated fats beyond a threshold limit will help them make informed decisions about their purchases.

“For example, if front of the pack of an item has warning labels, a diabetes patient or a patient of high blood pressure would be able to decide whether he should buy or not,” Mahajan said when asked for his comment.

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has reportedly started a move to introduce health star ratings (HSR) on the front of the pack labels of packaged food and beverages.

The move was discussed at a stakeholder meeting, presided over by the food safety regulator’s CEO Arun Singhal on February 15, which agreed that the system “may be incorporated in the draft regulations”.

“From the minutes of the meeting it is evident that while taking a decision that each food should be rated from one to five stars, the FSSAI has chosen to ignore consumer interest and has given undue importance to the opinion of large food processing industries,” the SJM co-convenor said.

According to the minutes of the meeting, George Cheriyan from CUTS International and Amit Khurana from the CSE opposed the recommendation for use of HSR Model in India citing the “positive connotation” underlying the star system that may mislead the consumer.

“… Health star ratings are taken with a positive connotation and do not meet the intention of FOPL (front-of-pack-label) regarding warning for negative nutrients, which may be overwhelmed by positive nutrients in the algorithm design for HSR,” they said.

Consumer Voice CEO Ashim Sanyal said at the meeting the AIIMS-UNC was also carrying out a study on the FOPL and suggested that the FSSAI should wait for its report, expected to come “shortly”, before taking any decision.

At the meeting, the industry associations “appreciated” the study conducted by the IIM Ahmedabad and “expressed willingness” to go along with its recommendations.

“The stakeholders’ meeting was dominated by pro-industry members,” said Mahajan, adding that the presence of the large number of food companies, raises question on FSSAI’s objectivity.

“When the food regulatory body is taking a decision in this regard, the health of the people of the country should be its“ first priority and not the profit of the companies ”, he said.

“It is the responsibility of the Ministry of Health to keep a close watch on these subjects,” he told PTI.

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