Imagine the FSSAI at Delhi issuing a notice to a manufacturer of food products for printing unsubstantiated health claims on the front panel of a food package to entice unsuspecting consumers to splurge on that product! Even if such a "rarest of rare" incidence happens what could be the consequences? Nothing! Most likely the notice would find its rightful place in the garbage bin of the corporate office of the company because every "culprit" in this country knows that FSSAI is a toothless tiger!. Look at the commotion created by serving notices to food giants like Nestle and 16 other major food processors in the US by the FDA questioning the validity of health claims made by them on the labels of their products. The response from these "violators" has been in double quick time promising full cooperation in complying with the regulations in the statute books fully
Nestle and Diamond Foods, two major companies in the US have been under the scanner of the authorities for making claims made on their packaging labels. After detailed scrutiny the FDA zeroed in on 22 food products that violated its claim guidelines. Others on the radar for labeling violations included Dreyer's Grand Ice Cream for for its Nestle drumsticks, Nestle Nutrition for its Juicy Juice products, and Diamond Foods for some of its nut products. The FDA is targeting health and nutrition claims that it says would cause the food products to be regulated as drugs. The offending companies are being booked for making claims over trans fat content, antioxidant advantages, and omega-3 benefits contrary to the existing guidelines. The violations include unauthorized health claims, unauthorized nutrient content claims, and unauthorized use of vague terms such as "healthy," including others that have strict, regulatory definitions.
It is tragic that some of these companies operating in India have double standards offering to the hapless citizens of this country same products marketed in the US but with much inferior standards of quality and safety. The breakfast cereals, chocolate products, snack foods, soft drinks, bottled water, oat flakes and many others marketed in India are distinctly inferior to their counterparts in the US. For this situation consumer will have to "thank" the FSSAI which does not seem to have any clue regarding what is happening in the market place.
A larger question that arises regarding the health claims is whether food processing industry is adequately equipped to design and manufacture food products which are healthier than normal foods as it requires tremendous resources and infrastructure facilities to launch specialty foods with proven health claims. Taking isolated published information and using it as support for any health claim cannot be accepted because such data apply only to specific conditions of experiment carried out by the authors of the studies quoted.
Some pundits in India are pedaling the concept of nutraceuticals or nutrifoods or pharma foods which does not have any scientific validity. Adding nutrients like vitamins, minerals and some others to foods during food processing must be restricted to the extent of "restoring" such nutrients lost due to severity of processing. This cannot be the basis for indiscriminate use of various synthetic or extracted substances with some hypothetical health promoting benefits in processed foods and claim they are superior to normal foods. GOI must clamp down such profit motivated efforts by a segment of the food industry in this country.
As a policy measure GOI must lay down guidelines regarding addition of any nutrients to a food and should not allow any one to print any health claims on the label even indirectly. Such foods which are made using external nutrients, not natural to them, must not be given permission for manufacture or marketing by the food industry. This responsibility may be assigned to the pharma industry which can do a better job in designing such products and exercising the quality and safety responsibilities with its established infrastructure. Even when it comes to nationally mandated nutrification programs like iodine in salt, Vitamin A and D in milk, iron in salt or tea etc food industry can be given specific permission for manufacture of such foods under direct monitoring by the Health Ministry of GOI. The "free for all" situation that exists to day for any "tom, dick and harry" to sell health foods must be stopped in the interest of consumers in the country.