Delhi-based body junks FSSAI's report on nutritional norms for kids, offers food for thought with pan-India survey of school canteens.
Reposing no faith in the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) report offering guidelines for keeping junk food and aerated drinks away from in and around schools, Delhi-based Uday Foundation has decided to embark on a survey collating information on the diverse food served in schools pan-India and to identify the good from the bad.
Experts, particularly the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), who have been involved in the expert panel, set up to advice FSSAI on framing the guidelines, have voiced their reservations about the report that was submitted to the Delhi High Court recently. There are aspersions that FSSAI tweaked its reports against the expert advice issued.
Uday Foundation, which filed the public interest litigation (PIL) in 2010, that prompted the High Court to ask FSSAI to frame these guidelines, is clearly disappointed with the report and is launching a parallel report.
In a pro-active response to the foundation's PIL, the Delhi High Court had mandated that FSSAI work out an action plan from ridding the schools and their periphery of junk food and aerated drinks.
The food authority was also asked to consult the All India Food Processors Association (AIFPA) and restaurant associations. However, the report seems to have lent its ear more to the industry than the experts, observed Sunita Narain, director, CSE, who cochaired the expert committee.
"We had recommended that carbonated beverages, sugar sweetened non-carbonated beverages, chips and other packaged food and confectionery items be banned from school and its periphery up to a radius of 500 yards," Narain said, in response to an e-mail sent to her. This stern advice was diluted in the report to just "restricting/limiting" the supply of such items.
Similarly, the 500 yards (457 metres) was shrunk to 50 metre-radius. Pointing to the industry's concerted efforts to scuttle the move to cleanse the schools of junk food, Narain point out, "The food industry first tried to block the setting up of the committee itself. But the court rejected this. Next, they changed their tactic to argue that the problem was not junk food but lack of physical activity."
In a clear betrayal of who the report was listening to, it suggested greater physical activity in schools. "The question now is about what is to be done with such junk food items which are high in salt, sugar and fat.
We think the court is seriously addressing this issue of huge public health concern," she said. But a disappointed Rahul Verma, founder of Uday Foundation, is not willing to wait and watch what the court does and is all set to roll up his sleeves and get to work. "We will cover 500 schools across the country, looking at the diverse native nutritive food.
We will also list out food high on empty calories that should be banned from the canteens. We will submit the list to amicus curiae, since it will be a representative list," he told Mirror. "A radius of 50 metres is just too small," protested Madhavi Kapur, principal of Aman Setu, a school in Wagholi.
"Junk food and aerated drinks should be banned from the school's vicinity. Instead fruit stalls can offer healthier food options to children. Outside packaged food is unhealthy.
Even with upma and poha you cannot be sure of the manner in which they were cooked. Parents should pack small tiffins for after-school hours. A well-monitored tuck shop in the school serving hot and fresh food could also help," she added.
"We don't allow children to eat outside food and serve them khichdi, which is made under strict vigilance. But what they eat outside the school is beyond our control. The surrounding area should be declared school zone and such food vendors should be kept away.
Even parents should be counselled," said Nanda Mane, principal of Nutan Marathi Vidyalay in Appa Balwant Chowk.