The Indian government has finalized a law banning the sale and marketing of junk food – “food products high in saturated fat or trans-fat or added sugar or sodium” – in all schools in a fifty-meter radius.
Ban Will effectively end the sale of junk food
The ban would effectively end the sale of junk food such as sugar-sweetened beverages, pizzas, chips and deep-fried foods in all schools across India – from pre-kindergarten to twelfth grade, government and private.
Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), the primary food safety regulator in India, was tasked by the High Court to develop the law to ban junk food in schools and had sought public comments on a draft law published in November 2019.
The India Resource Center, in its comments to the FSSAI on December 3, 2019, on the draft regulation had specifically asked for a better definition of food high in fats, salt, and sugar (HFSS), or junk food. It has also suggested “a much more exhaustive list of HFSS foods”.
YOU MAY LIKE TO READ: No Country For Children: Health And Future Of Every Child And Adolescent Worldwide Is Under Immediate Threat
The draft law had contained language specifically mentioning “French fries, fried chips, samosa, chole bhatura, gulab jamun, etc. Sugar-sweetened carbonated or non-carbonated beverages, ready to eat food, noodles, pizzas, burgers, Confectionery items, sugar and sugar-based products, etc.” as examples of foods high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) to be avoided.
The final law published on September 4, 2020, has removed the examples of foods high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) offered in the draft regulation, ostensibly due to lobbying from the food industry.
“Regardless of the shortcomings, banning the sale and marketing of junk food to our kids in Indian schools is welcome and long overdue”, said Amit Srivastava of the India Resource Center which has worked to expose the influence by Big Food companies on India’s government agencies through front groups such as the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI).
“The focus now needs to be on the enforcement of the ban on junk foods, and this would also mean introducing penalties for non-compliance, and holding to account those responsible for enforcing the law.”
The new law stems from a public interest lawsuit filed by the Uday Foundation in 2010 seeking a ban on the sale of junk food in schools in Delhi and a 500-meter radius because of the negative health impacts.
The court constituted an expert group comprising of comprised of nutritionists and paediatricians in September 2013 to recommend guidelines on the availability of junk food to children in schools.
The expert group also included representatives from three industry groups who had impleaded themselves into the case – National Restaurants Association of India, All India Food Processors Association and Retailers Association of India.
Prominent junk food companies, including Coca-Cola, Nestle, McDonald’s, Dominos, PepsiCo, Cadbury India (now Mondelez India), Dabur and Parle Agro were all represented by one of the three industry groups to advise the judiciary on how to get Indian children to avoid junk food. This was heavily criticized by the India Resource Center and allies.
The Covid-19 pandemic has also forced a rethink around the world about the consumption of junk food, particularly as it is becoming clear that being obese places one at higher risk for mortality due to Covid-19.
The Indian food regulator, FSSAI, also discourages junk food consumption in its Covid-19 campaign because of the risk of gaining weight and associated risks, and the UK is adopting new measures to curb junk food consumption in light of the pandemic.