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Decoding front of pack labelling

The use of labelling is vital and hence needs to be clear, precise, and meaningful.
Last Updated : 12 October 2023, 19:36 IST

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Front of Pack Labelling (FoPL) is a nutrition labelling system that aids consumers in identifying foods that are less healthy, with labels prominently displayed on the front side of the processed food packages. It is an important element of WHO’s global policy to encourage governments to develop mandatory FoPL systems to reduce consumption of processed foods and beverages that are associated with unhealthy diets.

Policy interventions

In 2013, an Expert Committee constituted by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) recommended establishing FoPL. After years of consultations, FSSAI published a draft Food Safety and Standards (Labelling and Display) Regulation in May 2018 and issued a draft notification on Food Safety Standards (Labelling and Display) Regulations in 2019.

The success of policies often hinges on effective communication and stakeholder engagement. In a broad sense, all stakeholders have a say and are required to interpret, react, and take an active role.

The use of labelling is vital and hence needs to be clear, precise, and meaningful. Some systems are informative and include information on the amount of key nutrients in the product, whereas others are interpretative, based on symbols, colours, words, and statements. To ensure that the implementation of policies reaches the objectives set, it is important to keep in mind the target audience and their role in ensuring this. The government, manufacturers, and consumers all have a role to play in ensuring success. 

What should the government do? Governments use FoPL as a strategy to provide consumers with clarity on the nutritional content of packaged food products. So broadly, they must consider the following:

Highlight key nutrients linked to health concerns like calories, added sugars, sodium, saturated fats, and trans fats.

Use simple visual elements such as symbols, icons, and colours to indicate nutrient levels (high, moderate, or low).

Provide clear information on daily intake for key nutrients to help consumers understand how much a serving contributes to their overall daily diet.

Standardise terminologies for consistency across different products and brands, for example, what constitutes “low,” “moderate,” and “high” levels of key nutrients.

Ensure prominent placement for FoPL on the front of the package, where consumers can easily see it while buying.

Keep in mind people with disabilities.

Role of manufacturers

Manufacturers play a key role in the effective implementation of FoPL. Some recommendations to be considered while designing and implementing FoPL on their product packaging are:

Be transparent and honest in presenting nutritional information on the front of the package.

Use standardised symbols, colours, and icons that are endorsed by government agencies or industry associations to ensure that consumers can easily understand and compare different products.

Design simple, clear, and easily understandable packaging using clear fonts to convey key nutritional information.

Highlight key nutrients such as calories, added sugars, sodium, saturated fats, and trans fats that are of concern for public health.

Use simple terms and phrases that consumers can easily understand; avoid jargon. Ensure the accuracy of the nutritional information displayed.

Ideally, FoPL is designed to help consumers make informed and healthier food choices. Suggestions include:

Understand FoPL symbols, colours, and icons to quickly assess nutritional content.

Remember to adjust the values according to actual consumption by checking the serving sizes.

Understand the meaning behind “high,” “moderate,” and “low” labels. Read the fine print to get a comprehensive view of the product’s content.

Use FoPL as a tool to help make healthier choices.

Consult a registered dietitian or nutritionist who can provide personalised guidance on specific dietary goals, health concerns, or questions on FoPL.

The success of a government initiative is a collective responsibility, and all stakeholders must take an active interest in ensuring that products are useful and not harmful. While designing the elements for communication such as labels, consider the needs of persons with disabilities.

(The writer is executive director of Public Affairs Foundation)

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Published 12 October 2023, 19:36 IST

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