The consumer may not be king in India yet but a new set of labelling guidelines on prepackaged food is ready to protect their interests better than ever before. Prepared by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the rules imply that manufacturers of all prepackaged food - including soft drinks - will now, by law, have to mention the ingredients used.
For the first time, manufacturers have been directed to give the weight (or volume) of each ingredient of the product. The only exception: when the ingredient is less then 2 per cent of the product's total weight. Till now, manufacturers only had to mention the ingredients in descending order of weight.
Prepackaged food is defined as "packaged or made up in advance in a container, ready for offer to customer".
Manufacturers will also have to mention the nutritional value of the ingredients. Labels will need to carry information "on the amounts of protein, carbohydrate and fat", says last week's notification on the Prevention of Food Adulteration (7th Amendment) Rules 2006. Numerical information on vitamins and minerals will also have to be listed.
Sources said the ministry took a year and half to formulate the new rules.
"An expert committee - comprising industry representatives, health experts, bureaucrats and doctors - was formed to study the old rules and introduce new ones," said a source. "Objections were invited on the draft amendments. Some valid ones were incorporated."
The sources said the amendments emphasised on the health aspect of packaged food. For example, it has been made mandatory to list information on 'trans fat' - which is difficult to digest and considered harmful.
For the first time, labels will carry information on "allergenic and hypersensitive" substances. "There are ingredients, like peanuts, eggs and milk, that many are allergic to," said the source.
The new law bans the use of tobacco and nicotine in food products. "The manufacturers of gutka and chewing tobacco get licences under the category of proprietary food," said the source. "Proprietary food means a food which has not been standardised under the Prevention of Food Adulteration Rules 1955. Now, these products will be included under tobacco products."
The sources, however, said the ministry did not expect manufacturers to dismantle their current labelling systems overnight and adopt the new rules. "The process of changing the entire inventory is huge," said a source. "Keeping that in mind, prosecutions will start from next year."