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World Health Day: Consumer’s right good health & healthy food
Saturday, 06 April, 2024, 16 : 00 PM [IST]
Ashim Sanyal
Is our right to health under threat because of lack of warning labels on packaged foods?
As we celebrate World Health Day 2024, with My Health, My Right, it will not be unfair to say that the right to health is under threat till we have access to right information. As consumers, we play an important role in promoting sustainable consumption, but this can get a further boost only if we become empowered and educated on the right to be informed on what is healthy.

In the past, consumers were largely unaware of the impact they can have on their purchasing choices, and on this World Health Day it is important to let consumers know about their right to information and right to health, which they can exercise through their purchasing choices.

With the UN General Assembly adopting the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Goal 12 focuses on ensuring “sustainable consumption and production patterns”. It is the responsibility of all stakeholders to ensure consumers’ right to health. Businesses should comply with consumer information and regulators must establish regulations for the protection of consumer health.

Keeping this in consideration, consumers should have access to adequate information to enable them to make informed choices. Front-of-pack-warning label on packaged foods is one of the legitimate ways of informing consumers of unhealthy foods. We need a label that is simple and interpretive for consumers to make informed food choices. Sale of packaged foods high in fats, sugar and salt is on the rise and thanks to the large-scale promotion of such products on various channels, consumers are more vulnerable. There is enough scientific evidence to show that the nutrients of concern are connected with Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) directly.

Consumers who know their rights and obligations can understand and interpret labels before choosing to buy the right products for themselves and their families.  What are the rights of a consumer? Right to information, right to consumer awareness, right to be protected from unfair trade practices, including misleading, deceptive label information and most importantly, right to safe food and right to health.

In a nutshell, all these rights demand that consumers be made aware of food contents through a well-designed simple warning label that will warn about unhealthy foods and help them make an informed decision.

The Consumer Protection Act 2019 upholds consumers’ right to safe food as there is a growing burden of nutrition-related Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) which account for 63% all deaths in India. Among the possible interventions, Front-Of-Pack nutrition labels (FOPLs) have received growing attention from experts and scientists, and are now considered one of the key policies to tackle NCDs like diabetes, hypertension, obesity, cardiovascular diseases, etc.

Consumption of ultra-processed foods and packaged foods is on the rise and irrespective of the socio-economic background, it is putting the lives of children and youth at peril. We can improve the situation by letting consumers make the right choice with a simple warning label on the front of food packets for unhealthy foods. A front of pack warning label on packaged foods will help consumers identify the products that are high in salt, sugar and fat.  

The main objective of having FOPL is to present simplified nutrition information on the front-of-pack of pre-packaged foods. In today’s fast-paced world, consumers find it difficult to flip the pack and read the back of packs. In addition to lack of time, many also find food labels difficult to comprehend. The introduction of well designed FOPL will provide nutritional information to consumers in an easy-to-understand form, thereby helping them make sustainable and healthy food choices.

The role of consumers and businesses in promoting sustainability, and ensuring safe and healthy food is intertwined. Businesses need to respond to consumers’ demand for safe food. By increasing transparency and accountability through front of pack warning labels on unhealthy packaged foods, and engaging in responsible advertising and marketing practices, businesses and consumers can make a positive impact on the environment and society.

Everyone should have the right to make decisions about their own health and one should not be deprived of this right!

(The author is Chief Executive Officer, Consumer VOICE) 
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