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Colombia Taxes Ultra-Processed Food: Does India Need a 'Junk Food Law' Too?

Colombia taxes ultra-processed food, prompting a discussion on whether India needs a similar junk food law.

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Imagine that your Rs 20 chips packet suddenly became expensive... and the price just kept on increasing each year. Would you still buy it?

Probably not, right? That’s what Colombia is trying to do.

Earlier in November, Colombia became one of the world’s first countries to introduce a law under which all ultra-processed foods (UPF) would be taxed.

This “junk food law” was brought about since deaths by non-communicable diseases account for nearly 76 percent of all deaths in Colombia.

FIT asked experts in the Indian medical community if we need a similar law too. 

Colombia Taxes Ultra-Processed Food: Does India Need a 'Junk Food Law' Too?

  1. 1. First Things First: What Does Colombia’s Law Say?

    The “junk food law” in Colombia is a tax imposed on ultra-processed foods that will gradually keep increasing every year.

    In 2023, the tax to be imposed on UPFs is 10 percent. In 2024, this will increase to 15 percent and by 2025, the tax will stand at 20 percent. It will cover all ready-to-eat foods, while also including any munchies or foods that are high in saturated fats and salt.

    Apart from the tax, under the new law, all UPFs would have to come with mandatory health warnings.

    But how does one identify what is a UPF and what is not?

    Dr Arun Gupta, former member of PM’s Council on India’s Nutrition Challenges, talking to FIT earlier this year, gave an easy hack for a layperson:

    “In the packet, if you can't identify any particular real food, then it is most likely ultra-processed.”
    Expand
  2. 2. Does India Need A ‘Junk Food Law’?

    If we go by statistics, then yes. A report jointly published by the World Health Organisation 9WHO) and the Indian Council for Research (ICMR) on International Economic Relations, in August this year, showed that India’s UPF sector, in the last decade, has had a compound annual growth rate of 13.37 percent.

    A study by the United States National Institutes of Health showed that non-communicable diseases account for 68 percent of all deaths globally.

    And India is not too far behind in this. The same study also showed that lifestyle or non-communicable diseases cause 60 percent of all deaths in India. 

    What is also concerning is that young people and adults alike have been showing increasing trends of consuming UPFs, according to a 2022 study published in the US.

    And how harmful is this for us? Dr Anukalp Prakash, Lead Consultant, Gastroenterology, CK Birla Hospital, Gurugram, tells FIT:

    “Consuming junk food or ultra-processed food causes many gastrointestinal diseases. We’ve been seeing more and more younger people be diagnosed with obesity, diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, and other lifestyle diseases. The risk of constipation-related issues and cancers, especially colon cancer, also increases if we regularly eat UPFs.”

    Dr Ashwini Setya, Senior Consultant with Delhi’s Medanta Institute of Digestive & Hepatobiliary Sciences, agrees with Dr Prakash. To this end, he also concedes that India needs a "junk food law and urgently so."

    Dr Prakash goes on to explain why UPFs are actually harmful for us.

    • One, he says, they are bad for our immune system.

    • Two (and this is common knowledge), most UPFs have a high content of saturated fats, sugar, and salt. They also have very low quantities of fiber. 

    But, more importantly, Dr Prakash says:

    “To prepare ultra processed food, you extract the natural edible components and mix it up with preservatives and carbohydrate chemicals to make it more palatable. There is absolutely no nutrition in them.” 
    Expand
  3. 3. What Do Experts Suggest For Policy Changes in India?

    Dr Setya has a bunch of recommendations on what policymakers should keep in mind if they do sit down to frame laws for ultra-processed foods.

    “A law is only as good as its enforcement .If we do bring in a law, we need to make sure it's implemented properly.”
    Dr Ashwini Setya

    Here’s what he suggests:

    • Advertising of ultra-processed food should be regulated, and there should be no loophole for surrogate advertising as well.

    Dr Setya says, “Like how tobacco has been advertised through other symbols all these years, that shouldn’t happen with ultra-processed foods.”

    • These products are quite accessible and can now even be delivered anywhere – that chain needs to be regulated.

    • Emulsifiers and additives about whom concerns have been raised should also be regulated for use by companies producing UPFs.

    “These products should also have labels and details of their ingredients. Most packaged food items have ‘class-2 preservatives’ written on them. How do people know what this is supposed to mean? The packets should clearly declare their ingredients. In the end, it all comes down to educating the public. Through awareness, they should be discouraged from consuming these foods," Dr Setya added.

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

First Things First: What Does Colombia’s Law Say?

The “junk food law” in Colombia is a tax imposed on ultra-processed foods that will gradually keep increasing every year.

In 2023, the tax to be imposed on UPFs is 10 percent. In 2024, this will increase to 15 percent and by 2025, the tax will stand at 20 percent. It will cover all ready-to-eat foods, while also including any munchies or foods that are high in saturated fats and salt.

Apart from the tax, under the new law, all UPFs would have to come with mandatory health warnings.

But how does one identify what is a UPF and what is not?

Dr Arun Gupta, former member of PM’s Council on India’s Nutrition Challenges, talking to FIT earlier this year, gave an easy hack for a layperson:

“In the packet, if you can't identify any particular real food, then it is most likely ultra-processed.”
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Does India Need A ‘Junk Food Law’?

If we go by statistics, then yes. A report jointly published by the World Health Organisation 9WHO) and the Indian Council for Research (ICMR) on International Economic Relations, in August this year, showed that India’s UPF sector, in the last decade, has had a compound annual growth rate of 13.37 percent.

A study by the United States National Institutes of Health showed that non-communicable diseases account for 68 percent of all deaths globally.

And India is not too far behind in this. The same study also showed that lifestyle or non-communicable diseases cause 60 percent of all deaths in India. 

What is also concerning is that young people and adults alike have been showing increasing trends of consuming UPFs, according to a 2022 study published in the US.

And how harmful is this for us? Dr Anukalp Prakash, Lead Consultant, Gastroenterology, CK Birla Hospital, Gurugram, tells FIT:

“Consuming junk food or ultra-processed food causes many gastrointestinal diseases. We’ve been seeing more and more younger people be diagnosed with obesity, diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, and other lifestyle diseases. The risk of constipation-related issues and cancers, especially colon cancer, also increases if we regularly eat UPFs.”

Dr Ashwini Setya, Senior Consultant with Delhi’s Medanta Institute of Digestive & Hepatobiliary Sciences, agrees with Dr Prakash. To this end, he also concedes that India needs a "junk food law and urgently so."

Dr Prakash goes on to explain why UPFs are actually harmful for us.

  • One, he says, they are bad for our immune system.

  • Two (and this is common knowledge), most UPFs have a high content of saturated fats, sugar, and salt. They also have very low quantities of fiber. 

But, more importantly, Dr Prakash says:

“To prepare ultra processed food, you extract the natural edible components and mix it up with preservatives and carbohydrate chemicals to make it more palatable. There is absolutely no nutrition in them.” 
0

What Do Experts Suggest For Policy Changes in India?

Dr Setya has a bunch of recommendations on what policymakers should keep in mind if they do sit down to frame laws for ultra-processed foods.

“A law is only as good as its enforcement .If we do bring in a law, we need to make sure it's implemented properly.”
Dr Ashwini Setya

Here’s what he suggests:

  • Advertising of ultra-processed food should be regulated, and there should be no loophole for surrogate advertising as well.

Dr Setya says, “Like how tobacco has been advertised through other symbols all these years, that shouldn’t happen with ultra-processed foods.”

  • These products are quite accessible and can now even be delivered anywhere – that chain needs to be regulated.

  • Emulsifiers and additives about whom concerns have been raised should also be regulated for use by companies producing UPFs.

“These products should also have labels and details of their ingredients. Most packaged food items have ‘class-2 preservatives’ written on them. How do people know what this is supposed to mean? The packets should clearly declare their ingredients. In the end, it all comes down to educating the public. Through awareness, they should be discouraged from consuming these foods," Dr Setya added.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

Read Latest News and Breaking News at The Quint, browse for more from fit

Topics:  Junk Food   Health   Colombia 

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