NEW DELHI :
A laboratory analysis of most packaged and fast food items sold in India has revealed high salt and fat content, in violation of thresholds set by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI). The laboratory analysis was conducted by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).
Conducted by CSE’s Environment Monitoring Laboratory (EML), the analysis tested for salt, fat, transfats and carbohydrate content in 33 popular junk food items, which included 14 samples of chips, namkeen, instant noodles and soup, and 19 samples of burgers, fries, fried chicken, pizza, sandwich and wraps. These samples were collected from grocery stores and fast food outlets in Delhi and are widely sold and consumed across the country.
According to the CSE report, in the chips and namkeen segment, among all the brands tested, Too Yumm Multigrain Chips (which Indian cricket captain Virat Kohli advertises as a “smart snack") had the maximum salt content -- 1 gram in 30 gram of chips. In other words, a 30 gram-pack of this gives double the day’s allowance of salt from a snack! Among namkeens, Haldiram’s Classic Nut Crackers scored high on the salt content. Instant noodles and soups--Maggi and Knorr products were tested—were also revealed have very high salt levels, and so did samples of burgers--McDonald’s, Burger King--pizzas from Domino’s, Pizza Hut, and sandwiches - Subway.
CSE director general Sunita Narain pointed at the delay in notifying draft Food Safety Standards, (Labelling and Display) Regulations, in works since 2013. “This is compromising our right to know and our right to health. Over the six years, the FSSAI has constituted committee after committee and in 2018 a ‘final’ draft was issued; this was then revised and another 2019 final ‘draft’ was put out for public comments. But even this final draft remains a draft. Clearly, our right to know and our right to health is not a priority," Narain said.
CSE also analysed the findings to understand how much of Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) is used (or exhausted) by eating these foods. The concept of RDA is well established globally and is used to understand how much of any nutrient (salt, sugar, fat) should be consumed from different meals. Most packaged foods fall in the ‘snack’ category and the RDA of this food is, therefore, a proportion of daily intake.
“If we say that we have three meals and two snacks in a day, each snack must not add up to more than 10% of the RDA," said Amit Khurana, programme director, food safety and toxins team, CSE.
In the case of ‘added sugar’, the product would be labelled ‘red’ if the energy provided by the ‘added sugar’ is more than 10% of the energy provided by 100 g of the product. In the 2018 draft, the notification had used ‘sugar’ and not ‘added sugar’. The draft 2019 regulation introduced ‘added sugar’, but has taken the same threshold as the one for ‘total sugar’ (50 g/day). “This is clearly a compromise to appease the powerful beverage and juice industry, but will compromise our health instead," the report said.
According to public health experts, tansfats are deadly and should be completely eliminated from food because they are indicted for heart diseases.
Mrinal Mallik, head of the CSE lab, said, “The results show that in almost all the food CSE tested, companies have underreported the amount of transfats in their products. This should not be allowed."