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Delhi HC asks for detailed response on junk food in schools

 

 

Last updated Wednesday July 06, 2016

  Junk Food, Child Health, School  
 
Hearing a case on banning junk food in schools Delhi High Court, while asking for a detail report on the matter, wanted to know which junk foods should be regulated. The Delhi HC fixed the next hearing for August 6, 2014.  
HNF Correspondent  
 

Hearing the case of banning junk foods in schools, Delhi High Court today sought a detailed response on the matter while fixing the next hearing of the case for August 6, 2014.

In its direction to the amicus curiae N K Kaul, the bench of Chief Justice Gorla Rohini and Justice Pradeep Nandrajog has asked to file the detailed response within three weeks segregating what out of the submitted guidelines is enforceable and what is suggestive. The court also stressed on the need to specify the junk food items that should be regulated in schools. Social watchdog organizations including the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) have welcomed the direction of the Delhi High Court in the case.

 

A Delhi-based non-profit organisation, Uday Foundation, filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL), in the year 2010, seeking a ban on junk food sold in schools and around them, regulation of junk food promotion and advertisement, and development of a school canteen policy. In response to this, the court had asked the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) to set the required guidelines. In March 2014, the FSSAI submitted a set of guidelines to the court for “making available quality and safe foods in schools.” The guidelines were developed by an Expert Group set up by the FSSAI as per the directions of the court in September 2013.

However, CSE has pointed out a serious problem with the guidelines. It contends that a close look at the guidelines submitted to the court by FSSAI reveals, they will be totally ineffective in addressing the prayers of the PIL. CSE experts say that the food industry has worked to influence the Expert Group’s guidelines. As a result, a diluted set of guidelines has been submitted to the court. This is not the same set of guidelines, equipped to safeguard the health of school children, which was developed by those who are best suited to the issue — eminent paediatricians, public health specialists and nutritionists as members of the Working Group.

“We believe that to begin with, carbonated beverages, sugar sweetened non-carbonated beverages, chips and other fried packed foods, potato fries and confectionery items should be banned from schools and near-by areas of 500 yards,” says Sunita Narain, CSE director general.

Bringing to light that non-industry members of the FSSAI Working Group have got the industry representatives on the Group to endorse this list of junk foods, Narain adds, “The question now is about what is to be done with such junk food items which are high in salt, sugar and fats. We think the court is seriously addressing this issue of huge public health concern.”

The key last-minute changes in the Working Group guidelines, which CSE alleges were incorporated under pressure from the food industry, were:

• Restricting/limiting availability of 'junk food' in schools and near-by instead of a complete ban that was suggested by the Working Group. No criteria is mentioned to ascertain what is meant by restricting/limiting and who would monitor, thereby making implementation ineffective

• The regulatory area near-by schools is reduced from 500 yards to 50 meters  limiting the purpose of it

• No recognition of the term 'junk food'. However, the Hyderabad-based National Institute of Nutrition defines junk food as food that contains little or no protein, vitamin or minerals but is rich in salt, fat and energy

Physical activity is over-emphasised suggesting that the problem is not junk food but lack of physical activity.

It is worth mentioning that the industry had sought modifications in the directions given by the court in September, based on which the FSSAI invited eminent experts for a consultation, pleading that junk food does not fall under the purview of the FSSAI. The court had then rejected both the arguments.

[Based on a release from Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), New Delhi.]

 
 
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