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Packet labelling on food packets

Transparency and traceability of packaged food products are mandatory when it comes to ensuring public health.

Published : Tuesday, 25 January, 2022 at 12:00 AM  Count : 773
Avijit Saha

Packet labelling on food packets

Packet labelling on food packets

Public health concerns skyrocketed due to the rise of the global pandemic. The rapid spread of the infectious disease left the governments with no choice rather imposes social distancing, lockdown at different lengths. We see economic stagnation with a higher number of unemployment than ever. The overall situation is pushing the Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes and obesity rates upward.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reported the prevalence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) causes 71% of global deaths and 77% of deaths in third world countries. Bangladesh with no exceptions has 59% deaths due to these diseases. Bangladesh is still maintaining a good distance from global rates. However, the pandemic has shortened the gap with an increased rate of overweight and obesity--which causes astronomical rates of diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease, among other non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

Bangladesh is undergoing rapid demographic and epidemiological shifts, with an aging population and a shift in the burden of disease away from infectious communicable diseases and toward chronic, non-communicable diseases (NCDs). The severity of these diseases leads to coronary heart disease, heart attack, stroke and other acute cardiovascular disease. Studies highlighted, diabetes is the most common and gateway to all other NCDs. The number of diabetes patients in Bangladesh will be 1.5 crores by 2050. Around half of the diabetic patients in Bangladesh show no symptoms before clinical diagnosis.

Failure of choosing proper dietary intakes associated with food habits is one of prime reasons behind the high prevalence of diabetes and NCDs. Consequently, a large number of people have been found those take excessive amount of processed foods--fast food, snacks, fried food items, biscuits, cookies, margarine and others--which contain alarming percentages of trans fats.

Food processing companies frequently show reluctance to follow adequate food labelling guidelines. No health warnings are included on packaged goods; rather, scientific nutrition information is included on food labels. As a result, diabetic patients remain dependent on retailers to buy the suitable ones for him.

To avoid these kinds of unpleasant scenarios packaged foods and beverages must have clear mandatory front of pack warning labels (FOPL) to help consumers make healthy food choices and decide to curve the number of rising NCDs. Globally FOPL has been initiated to provide the consumer with information on the content of salt, fats, saturated fats, trans-fats and sugar in pre-packaged food. New labelling rules would require simple, clear messaging on the front of food packages so consumers will know quickly whether an item is high in sugars, sodium (salt) and/or saturated fat--the three big threats to a healthy diet.

This kind of labelling would be a valuable tool for rushed shoppers, as well as those with low literacy skills. Replacing current hard-to-read and understand nutrition facts tables on the backs or even bottoms of current packages with any form of FOPL will be revolutionary for safeguarding public health.

Chile, a developing country of South America, has made FOPL in packaged food mandatory. The initiative positively impacts public health and reduces consumption and sale of sugar sweetened beverages. The Ministry of Food and Agriculture in Chile has restricted marketing a number of packaged foods and beverages to children as they contain high levels of calories and added sugar, sodium, or saturated fat.

Bangladesh has achieved remarkable success in food production by taking pragmatic measures by the government led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. As the country has ensured food security, the government is actively considering how nutritious food is ensured for all people of the country to build a healthy nation. Most of the people living in rural areas of the country have no vast ideas about nutrition and nutritious foods.

In preventing NCDs and maintaining optimal health proper diet can play a critical role. It is necessary to ensure the crucial balance between health concerns and the realities related to food consumption. It must therefore be supported by complementary legislative, policy and regulatory measures across the domestic landscape.

Packaged Food Labeling Regulations, 2017 needs to be amended with the inclusion of FOPL. Then, whatever model is agreed on will need to be supported by robust public education, sensitization, and awareness to ensure compliance and widespread stakeholder buy-in. This is a consistent approach among all the countries where FOPL has been introduced.

The timing of the introduction of the FOPL requirements is also critical. Considering COVID-19 recovery for our industries we must not take any step to disrupt the economic stability of the country. However, it is imperative to give importance to the issue of nutrition safety of the citizens for implementation of the government's Vision 2041 and achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Avijit Saha is currently enrolled in master's program in the Department of Development Studies at Bangladesh University of Professionals

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