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Could a safety measure end up misleading people about the safety of the food they eat? That’s the assertion of a range of health experts and civil society groups, who believe that a new security system to be rolled out by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) made a mistake.

The FSSAI had earlier announced that it would soon be rolling out its front-of-package labeling (FoPL) system, which would require manufacturers of processed foods to indicate the safety of their products using a system stars – the minimum of half a star would indicate not so healthy food and five stars would indicate healthy food.

The FSSAI has been on the trail of a FoPL system since 2014, when the Delhi High Court ordered it to come up with a suitable system. The court order to the regulator came in response to a PIL seeking a ban on the sale of junk food close to schools.

However, the star system has drawn heavy criticism from experts, who say it can be misleading in several ways. They say the stars could inherently be misunderstood as endorsements. Beyond that, they point out that it would be difficult to accurately label foods that might lose stars due to high salt, sugar, or fat content, but artificially gain a star due to low salt content. adding fibre, protein, fruit or vegetables. They say adding “positive” ingredients would do little to offset the effects of “negative” ingredients like sugar or fat.

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A position statement on the matter was released this week, striking against the star system. The document has been endorsed by 21 organizations including the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI), Center for Science and Environment, Consumer Voice, Cuts International and Indian Academy of Paediatrics.

The statement instead pushes for other systems to be chosen over the star system. Suggestions were for a system that would mandate the labeling of food products that are high in any of the “negative” ingredients. Another possible system proposed was a black or white stop sign to indicate foods that might be unhealthy.

Experts commenting on the issue also expressed concerns about the survey conducted by the Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad (IIM-A) based on responses from over 20,000 consumers. They say the study, which was the basis for the FSSAI’s choice of the star system, is flawed in its methodology. The other two systems suggested by the experts came second and third in the survey.

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The FSSAI has indicated that it plans to move forward and publish the draft star system guidelines. He said he would then consider public comments on the announcement.

Non-communicable diseases now account for around 60% of deaths in India. A national nutrition survey in 2106 revealed that more than 50% of children have biomarkers for at least one non-communicable disease. Very processed foodsdue to their high content of “negative” ingredients, can lead consumers to diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, stroke and kidney disease.