All processed food manufactured or sold in India will have to carry nutritional labeling from March 19, Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss said at the Ninth Editors’ Conference on Social Sector Issues here on Wednesday.
“Apart from a list of ingredients and the weight, it will become mandatory to list nutrition information, including total calories (energy value), amount of protein, carbohydrate, fat, sodium (salt), sugars, dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals. Labels will also have to list the amount of trans fat,” Ramadoss said.
Artery-clogging trans fat are used extensively in processed food to extend the shelf life of the product and preserve its flavour.
Health Secretary Naresh Dayal said the food-processing industry has already been given time to conform to the new packaging requirements. “The manufacturers were given six months to comply with the new labelling requirements, as required by WTO regulations. The six-month deadline gets over on March 19, so manufacturers have to comply by then,” Dayal told Hindustan Times.
Ramadoss says giving consumers information about what they are eating will help them make healthy food choices. “Nutrition labels will also help people keep track of their nutritional intake. Even people aware of what they eat do not realise how much more fat, sugar, salt and calories they consume in processed foods as compared to freshly-prepared one,” he said.
“Processed food high in calories, fat, salt and sugar and low in nutrients is linked with a clutch of health problems such as childhood obesity, high blood pressure, nutritional deficiencies causing conditions such as anaemia and osteoporosis (brittle bone disease), and raising the risk of leading killers such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and even some cancers,” said Dr Anoop Misra, director of the department of diabetes and metabolic diseases, Fortis Hospitals.
But detailed labelling is not enough, he says. “We also need to educate consumers what they should and should not eat. When food labelling was made mandatory in the US, people avoided things high in fat but ate a lot of carbohydrates, leading ton an obesity epidemic. An awareness campaign reinforcing that fresh food is the healthiest and a balanced diet is the key to good health is needed to make an impact on public health,” he added.