PRESS: Court Restricts Junk Food in Indian Schools

For Immediate Release
March 19, 2015

New Delhi: In a major development, the Delhi High Court has ruled that junk food – high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) – must be restricted in schools and a 50 meter radius. The court ruling was made public yesterday.

The restrictions on junk food, or HFSS as the court has termed it, are expected to cover schools all across India, and specifically restrict “Chips, fried foods; Sugar sweetened carbonated beverages; Sugar sweetened non-carbonated beverages; Ready-to-eat noodles, pizzas, burgers; Potato fries; and Confectionary items,” among others.

The Court has instructed the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), a governmental body authorized to regulate food standards, to develop specific rules around how the restrictions will be enforced in 3 months.

In addition to restricting the availability of junk food, the court has also asked that the FSSAI:
  • Develop policies for school canteens to ensure that school meals are nutritious, healthy and wholesome;
  • Regulate advertising and promotional activities of junk food companies directed to children, including potentially restricting celebrities from advertising junk food;
  • Strengthen labeling laws to make nutritional labels more informative and appropriate;
  • Establish stringent limits for unhealthy ingredients, including limiting transfats to 5%
  • Encourage physical activity by school children

The Court’s decision comes as the result of public interest litigation filed by the Delhi- based Uday Foundation in December 2010 which had sought an immediate ban on junk food and carbonated drinks in schools and a 500 yard radius.

Undue Corporate Influence

The court constituted an expert group in September 2013 to recommend guidelines on the availability of junk food to children in schools. The expert group comprised of nutritionists and pediatricians, and also included well-known environmentalist Sunita Narain of the Centre for Science and Environment.

The expert group also included representatives from three industry groups who had impleaded themselves into the case – National Restaurants Association of India, All India Food Processors Association and Retailers Association of India.

One of the representatives for the National Restaurant Association of India to the expert group was Sunil Adsule, the Director of Scientific & Regulatory Affairs at Coca-Cola India. Sanjay Khajuria, head of corporate communications at Nestle India represented the All India Food Processors Association in the expert group.

Prominent junk food companies, including McDonalds, Dominos, PepsiCo, Cadbury India (now Mondelez India), Dabur and Parle Agro were all represented by one of the three industry groups advising the judiciary on how to get Indian children to avoid junk food.

A significant divide emerged between the nutritionists and pediatricians on the one hand, and the industry groups on the other, on whether to completely ban junk food from schools and their vicinity or to “restrict” junk food in schools.

The conflict was made evident in the finalized recommendations submitted to the court by the FSSAI as a footnote which mentions that, “Some members - Pediatricians and Nutritionists - are of the view that there should be a ban on most common HFSS Foods in Schools and area within 50 meters.”

It must be noted that close to half of the expert group members are nutritionists and pediatricians.

Expert group member Sunita Narain also expressed concerns over the influence on industry over public health interests, accusing industry of diluting the guidelines. Her concerns are echoed by other public health advocates.

“Certainly, you can put pediatricians and industry representatives on a panel and wring a compromise from it. But you can’t then pretend that this is an optimal public health outcome. It’s a measure of how much public health will be sacrificed to private interest,” said Raj Patel, Research Professor at the Lyndon B Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, Austin.

“Allowing industry to advise on public health policies, and particularly those affecting children, is wrong because there is a clear conflict of interest. Food companies exist to make money, and protecting public health is an afterthought for such companies,” said Dr. Arun Gupta, pediatrician and Regional Coordinator, International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) Asia.

The move by the court to restrict access to junk food in schools is also welcomed by public health campaigners who have long argued that investment by junk food companies in India does not bode well for the future of India’s health, and should be discouraged.

“Although the move by the Delhi High Court to restrict the availability and marketing of junk food to our kids in schools is welcome, it is preposterous that junk food companies like Coca-Cola, Nestle and McDonalds are part of the process to decide what foods are healthy for our kids”, said Amit Srivastava of the India Resource Center, an international campaigning organization.

The decision by the Delhi High Court is a setback to junk food companies who have identified emerging economies such as India as the new profitable markets. Consumers in developed countries are turning away from sugary drinks due to health concerns.

Sugar sweetened beverages are being challenged and curbed all across the world – Mexico introduced a sugar and junk food tax in January 2014 which seems to be having positive results, and the city of Berkeley in the US passed a resolution in November 2014 to tax sugar sweetened beverages.

A number of groups in India, including the India Resource Center, International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) Asia, the Uday Foundation and the Alliance Against Conflict of Interest will be working to challenge the attempts of the food industry to influence public policy.

For more information, visit www.IndiaResource.org


Amit Srivastava +91 98103 46161 E: info@IndiaResource.org
Raj Patel E: rajpatel@utexas.edu
Dr. Arun Gupta +91-11-27343608 E: info@ibfanasia.org
Uday Foundation +91 11 4109 8444 E: info@udayfoundationindia.org

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