In what would alter the consumption pattern of products such as burgers, pizzas, sandwiches, snack foods and soft drinks in schools, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India is putting in place final guidelines to determine what counts as healthy food in educational institutions.
The guidelines, to be released by December this year, would categorise food items commonly sold and consumed in schools under segments such as junk food, street food, nutritional food and unhealthy food.
The move, according to those in the know, is aimed at helping children inculcate good eating habits.
FSSAI would present its draft guidelines before a seven-member expert committee.
The final set of guidelines would be formulated taking into account recommendations of the committee, sources said.
Executives at Coca-Cola and PepsiCo say they do not market carbonated drinks to children in primary and secondary schools.
Products such as Maaza are available in secondary schools only on demand. Packaged water by the two companies is available in both primary and secondary schools.
Activist bodies such as the Centre for Science and Environment say the food regulator’s move is important, given the lack of adequate food safety and labelling standards in India.
Chandra Bhushan, deputy director, CSE, says, “While the step is welcome, the draft guidelines, in my view, need to specifically address food-labelling issues.
"Also, there is rampant consumption of junk and street food right outside schools.
"Though the draft guidelines speak of regulating the sale of these food items within 500 yards of schools, strict implementation is essential.”
Last year, after a two-month study, CSE had said fast food and snacks such as PepsiCo’s Lays and Haldiram’s Aloo Bhujiya contained dangerous levels of trans-fat and salt.
“Sugar, salt and fat are items that need to be regulated.
"This means governments have to step in to control the powerful processed-food industry.
"But this is not happening in India,” it had said.
Coca-Cola and PepsiCo say they are already part of an eight-member club of companies in India that has pledged to promote healthy dietary habits among children.
The group, formed three years ago, also includes Hindustan Unilever, Nestle, Kellogg’s, General Mills, Mars and Cadbury.
These firms have decided not to advertise to children below 12 years and desist from commercial communication of their food & beverage products in primary schools, except for products that fulfil specific nutrition criteria or those requested by or agreed to by school administrators.
JUNKING JUNK FOOD
- FSSAI is framing a final set of guidelines that will categorise food items commonly sold and consumed in schools under segments such as junk food, street food, nutritional food and unhealthy food
- The aim is to promote healthy food habits among children
- Food safety activists say the step is important since packaged food & beverage companies have been aggressively targeting kids
- Multinationals such as Coca-Cola and PepsiCo refute that saying they do not market their products to children below 12 years
- Coke, Pepsi alongwith Cadbury, Hindustan Unilever, Nestle, Kellogg’s, General Mills and Mars are part of the group of companies that have pledged to promote good dietary habits among young children