The demand for junk food has to come down so that the demand for refined sugar also comes down
Here are some unrelated issues in the food and agriculture business. Please join the dots.
First, the Delhi High Court has delivered a judgement on the issue of junk food being sold in and around schools. The salient features are -
• Most common junk foods that are high in fat, salt and sugar such as chips, fried foods, sugar sweetened carbonated beverages, sugar sweetened non-carbonated beverages, ready-to-eat noodles, pizzas, burgers, potato fries and confectionery items should be restricted in schools and 50 meters nearby.
• Advertisement and promotion of such foods targeted at children is to be regulated through a framework that includes all types of media, celebrity endorsements and promotional activities.
• A canteen policy should be implemented based on colour coding. Green category foods -- the healthy food options -- should constitute about 80 per cent of available foods. Red category of select most common junk foods that are high in fat, salt and sugar should not be sold or served in schools. Suggested, healthy menu options should include fruit salad, fruits, paneer / vegetable cutlets, khandvi, poha, uthappam, upma, idlis and kathi rolls, low fat milk shakes with seasonal fruits and no added sugar, fresh fruit juice and smoothies with fruits, fresh lime soda, badam milk, lassi etc.
• The FSSAI (Food Safety and Standards Authority of India) should fix limits of unhealthy ingredients such as transfats to 5% at the earliest.
• Schools should promote nutrition education and awareness for children. A well-structured curriculum on balanced diet and its health impacts should be introduced.
• Labelling regulations must be strengthened by the FSSAI to enable complete and transparent information on the amount of fat, salt and sugar with reference to recommended daily allowed limits.
Second, the sugar industry is once again apparently in the doldrums and seeking handouts from the taxpayer. In the bargain, farmers have not been paid for the last 2 or even 3 years and have therefore, in some cases shifted to cash crops of shorter growth cycles, also because of rapid and drastic climate change. One of the largest customers for the refined sugar industry is the junk food industry, be it carbonated sweetened colas and other soft drinks, bakery products or even simple buns and pizza bases-and they do not like this shift away from sugarcane by the farmers.
This junk food industry is by default, therefore, demanding that the taxpayer subsidise its insatiable appetite for sugar. While the incentive to grow more useful seasonal cash crops, vegetables and lentils is either removed or farmers are simply not allowed to grow and sell them further. You have to understand the economies and pressures of rural India to appreciate this - where poor farmers or large land-holders alike are forced to grow sugarcane and sell it only to the sugar mills in their areas.
Sugarcane is a strange crop-traditionally associated with slavery. Mainly because it does not provide anything of value to the people growing it other than cash in lumpsum. That cash in lumpsum is not happening and landowners are rapidly, therefore, becoming enslaved and dispossessed of their own lands because of debt. Meanwhile, they are economically weakened and unable to resist the demand to grow even more sugarcane.
Sugarcane farming is where the term "indentured labour", a polite word for bonded labour or slavery, was coined.
General Sales Tax to permit free and easy movement of fresh produce between States is still not in position. Meanwhile, small but very important indicators like the delayed or even non-arrival of butterflies because of the unseasonal heavy rains in India this year have caused major worry on subjects as diverse as the spread of swine-flu to lack of pollination.
In turn, the cost of seasonal vegetables and other cash crops is likely to go shooting through the roof, as farmers are stuck between growing more sugar-cane in the hope that previous debts will be cleared and growing more vegetables as well as cash crops including fast-growing lentils to meet the demand.
This is going to impact your and my home budgets in a way that we cannot even begin to imagine right now.
One part of the solution lies in our hands as responsible citizens as well as in the larger interest of our own health. The rampaging demand for junk food of all sorts - from colas to fast foods to other unhealthy consumption - has to come down so that the demand for refined sugar also comes down.
The High Court judgement addresses one part. Making young people aware is the bigger part.
Just like there was a "Say no to fire-crackers" movement, we need to start working on a "Say no to Junk Food" movement and awareness programme aimed at young people. The Delhi High Court judgement is already covering the schools. We now need to also cover the weekends and holidays.
Expecting the junk food industry to voluntarily scale down consumption on weekends and holidays is like a pipe dream, not likely to happen, in fact heavy resistance can be expected. The only way to do it is by ourselves.
SAY NO TO JUNK FOOD TODAY, ESPECIALLY ON A HOLIDAY!
People are encouraged to get this message across to the purveyors of junk food by
whatever legitimate means available at their disposal. Start today!