Invoking national interest, Indian Sellers Collective has urged Prime Minister to initiate an investigation into the nutrition-based taxation report prepared by the World Health Organization.

A study on the growth of ultra-processed foods in India: an analysis of trends, issues and policy recommendations by ICRIER in collaboration with WHO has recommended nutrition-based taxation policies on the food industry.

According to Dr Roderico H Ofrin, WHO representative to India, the findings in the report present a strong case for a multipronged approach to curb the rising burden of diet related to Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) in India.

The Indian Sellers Collective, an umbrella body of leading trade associations and sellers across the country, has slammed a WHO report that advocates restricting the growth of small independent retailers selling traditional food products, alleging that the global health body is serving the interests of multinational corporations.

The study suggested that the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), in consultation with other stakeholders, should come up with a clear and transparent definition of High in Fat, Salt and Sugar (HFSS) food and there should be a nutrition-based taxation to reduce the risk of people getting over-burdened with risks associated with the ultra processed foods.

The study suggested that the FSSAI should come up with a clear and transparent definition of HFSS.

Highlighting the bias in the Nutrition-based taxation report, Indian Sellers Collective said the WHO report has suggested that zero-sugar carbonated drinks should not be classified under the same GST category as all carbonated drinks, which currently carry a 28 per cent tax rate coupled with a 12 per cent sin tax, totally 40 per cent.

“This WHO report contradicts its own advisory of advocating prohibition of non-sugar sweeteners, commonly found in zero-sugar carbonated drinks. This contradictory stance appears to push a biased narrative by the global body, suggesting an agenda to promote products from multinational corporations in the Indian market. This positioning of carcinogenic non-sugar sweeteners by WHO is clearly geared to suit the interests of a few at the cost of the health of millions of Indians.”

“Another worrisome aspect of the Nutrition-based taxation report is that it disregards the generations old composition of Indian foods and calls for promoting artificially tinkered foods based on untested scientific claims. We must not blindly adopt Western policies aiming to alter our culinary traditions and Indian food products. Indian cuisine, finely attuned to our climate and genetic makeup, has evolved over centuries. The WHO’s claim that high-salt Indian food is detrimental to our health is fallacious,” said Abhay Raj Mishra, Member and National Coordinator, Indian Sellers Collective.

Another important point Indian Sellers Collective highlighted is that the WHO report has also advocated for the implementation of the Draft Notifications on Food Safety and Standards (Labelling & Display) Amendment Regulations (2022) proposed by the FSSAI. Due to the Front-of-Pack Nutrition Labelling (FOPNL) Indian foods will receive lower star ranking and will be classified as unhealthy and ultimately face rejection by the consumers.  It will lead to an unfair advantage for western alternatives, which have in reality been fortified and chemically altered by MNCs solely with the purpose of achieving a higher ranking.

Indian traditional food products like, khakra, murukku, dal sev, bhujiya, and many other tried-and-true favourites.

The Indian Sellers Collective believes there is an urgent need to protect the interests of Indian consumers by bolstering and expanding the authority of domestic research organisations like the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) so they can carry out extensive studies specifically catered to Indian dietary habits in addition to researching the health effects of reformulated foods.

Numerous Indian food products that are consumed in the country’s north, south, east, and west are produced by local MSMEs and cottage industries. These Indian food products include khakra, murukku, dal sev, bhujiya, and many other tried-and-true favourites.

The Indian Sellers Collective believes that there is a covert plan to modify India’s food palate, and that this WHO report is yet another step in that regard. It also claimed that the report has the potential to cause enormous harm to the MSME sector, citing the fact that small retailers and unorganised food manufacturers create millions of employment.

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