Visit any urban food store in India and you will be spoilt for choices. But very few of these processed foods reveal the secret behind their delectable taste or the origins of their crunchiness. If a new central government rule is cleared by Parliament in the forthcoming monsoon session, this information will become mandatory. Last week, two senior ministers — Health Minister A. Ramadoss and Minister for Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution Sharad Pawar — acknowledged this threat from junk food to India’s health. The Food Safety and Standards Bill, which is being given final touches by the Health Ministry, will ensure that all processed foods manufactured and sold in India carries information on its weight and nutritional value including energy value, amounts of protein, carbohydrate, fat, information on vitamins and mineral, and amount and types of fats, especially harmful trans fatty acids that raise cholesterol.
The labelling will be a huge step forward considering that trans fats more than the others have the ability to wreck your health. Consider its negatives: it increases artery-blocking bad cholesterol and pushes down good cholesterol. The National Academy of Sciences, which advises the US and Canadian governments on nutritional science for use in public policy and product labelling programmes, says trans fatty acids are not essential and provide no known benefit to human health and it increases the risk of coronary heart disease. In developed countries like the US, it is mandatory to list its presence on the label. But the industry here uses it because it’s cheap and enhances the products’ shelf life.
The Bill is welcome, but much more needs to be done. For one, educating the public relentlessly like it was done in the anti-cola campaign. Activists have been demanding a ban on TV ads for these junk foods, which target children. And, these harmful foods must be banned in school cafes — be it public or private. The Delhi government for one has banned junk foods in its school canteens, but what about the private schools? Going a step forward, fast-food joints, including the ones owned by the multinationals, must be asked to display the ingredients they use like they do in their home countries.