Nutrition Meets Food Science

Food Labels: an overview

In earlier times when Foods were sold loose, the consumers could sniff even taste the product to ensure that it is safe to consume. With the advent of industrialization, the products are now available in packed conditions and consumers are not able to use their senses for this purpose. They use “Food Label” to make their choice for buying. Therefore, “Food Label” becomes the first direct means of communication for the consumer. The label will give lot of information to make his decision of informed choice. The label is also the first opportunity for manufacturer to communicate about his products to the consumers.

In today’s times, we all are aware and know the importance of Food labelling. As per definition by FAO, “It includes any written printed or graphic matter that accompanies Food or displayed near the Food, including that for the purpose of promoting of its sale or disposal.” As mentioned above, when the Food was produced and sold locally which was unpacked, there was no need of the labelling regulations. The earliest record of Food Regulations can be tracked way back to 13th century when King John of England regulated the price of bread sold. Later in 14th and 15th century bread, butter and wine required “mark of manufacturer” to prevent adulteration. Although European countries were ahead of enacting Food Adulteration laws, it was US who took the lead in bringing Food labelling laws robustly, including importance of Nutritional information on the labels. It first started in 1906 when formation of “Pure Foods and drugs Act 1906” which prohibited manufacturers from stating false or misleading information on Food Labels calling it misbranding. After many such efforts for developments in Food Labelling, the NLEA (Nutrition Labelling and Education Act) came in 1990 which set gold standards for Nutrition Labelling. In 2016, US FDA revised this Nutrition panel in a new set of Rules.

Post independence, India started its first Food law in 1954 with Prevention of Food adulteration Act (PFA) which gave labelling guidelines. Initially it was only name of the food, name of manufacturer, proximate composition, batch code etc. In addition to PFA, there were other Acts like Fruit Products Order, Milk and Milk Products Order, Meat Food Products etc. There were other horizontal bodies like Bureau of Indian Standards, AGMARK which governed certain categories of Foods. Standards weights and Measures Act 1976 was also to be followed.

When Food safety Standards Act 2006 came into existence, it replaced all other laws governing Foods. This act helped to end multiplicity of laws which was there at the time of PFA. Now the Food labelling is governed by Food Safety and standards (Labeling and Display) Regulations 2020. As per this regulation, Food label. must have mandatory information which include: Name of the Food, List of Ingredients, Nutritional Information, Veg Non-Veg logo, Food additives, Address of the manufacturer, FSSAI logo and Batch number, Batch code, Date marking, Instructions for use, percentage RDA per serving. Then details regarding quantity, retail price, consumer care etc. are also be appeared as per the Legal Metrology (Packaged Commodities) Rules 2011. Recently introduced Food Safety Standards (Advertisement and claims) Rules 2018 are also to be complied on the Food Label. These regulations define following claims: Nutrition claims, Non-addition claims, Health claims, conditional claims, Prohibited claims.

The information on the labels which is given to comply with all the above regulations undoubtedly helps the consumers to make informed decision to buy the products. It will be also helpful compare with so many competitive brands on the shelf of supermarket. However, so much information can become overdose to the consumers. The question is whether so much information necessary? Although elite consumers with some knowledge of Nutrition may know technical terms like RDA, percentage daily intake etc, it will not be possible for a normal consumer to make his decision with so much information. While complying with these regulations for FBOs, there are lot of questions which need to be answered. We will try to state few as follows: When declaring Vitamins and Minerals, should it be only added or also the naturally present. If a product does not contain fat, will declaring SFA, PUFA, MUFA make sense?

Also, in a country like India where amount of packaged food consumption is very small, whether these RDA figures or terms like High Salt, Sugar may not have significant effect on his health. Are there any guidelines to conduct clinical trials for health claims. Considering low consumption of packaged foods in our country, is there any study to show that the declaring % RDA per serve is serving the intended purpose. Especially when still majority of consumers in India still make their decision of buying based on “MRP and Use before” this really becomes confusing and information overdose. Then there is difficulties like accommodating so much mandatory information on the pack.

It is time to think about rationalization/ optimization of label matter. A focus should be also to educate the consumers and also create awareness in them about so many technical terms appearing on labels.

Dr. Shashank Bhalkar

Executive Director, PFNDAI

Add comment

Follow us

Don't be shy, get in touch. We love meeting interesting people and making new friends.