Business Standard

Added sugar in baby food? FSSAI to examine charges against Nestle

Packaged foods major says it has reduced added sugars in the range by 30% in last 5 years

Nestle

“There is a double standard here that can’t be justified,” said Nigel Rollins, a scientist at the World Health Organization (WHO), when presented with the findings | File image

Akshara SrivastavaSanjeeb Mukherjee New Delhi

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The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) will “closely examine” claims of Nestlé adding sugar and honey to its infant milk and cereal range sold in low- and middle-income countries, sources in the know told Business Standard on Thursday.
 
The move comes a day after the British publication The Guardian reported an investigation, which revealed that the global packaged goods major added sugar in the form of sucrose or honey in its Nido and Cerelac range sold in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
 
The investigation was carried out by Public Eye, a Swiss investigative organisation in collaboration with the International Baby Food Action Network.
 
Taking cognizance of the media reports, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) in a notification said that given the vulnerability of the population group and their unique nutritional needs, it was imperative that baby foods meet strict standards for quality and safety.

ALSO READ: After media report, Nestle India says cut added sugars in baby cereal range
 
The commission has urged the FSSAI to undertake a comprehensive review of the sugar content in baby food products manufactured and marketed by Nestlé and other companies. The FSSAI has been asked to inquire and furnish information within seven days.

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“Although we are yet to verify the credibility of the organisation which has carried out the investigation, Nestlé India’s response to the claims comes across as an admission of guilt,” said an FSSAI official.

The company’s shares declined over 3 per cent on Thursday to settle at Rs 2,462.75 on the BSE, its worst fall in three years. During the day, it went lower by 5.40 per cent.

Meanwhile, sources at FSSAI added that findings from the examination process will be submitted to the relevant scientific committee upon its completion.

“Reduction of added sugars is a priority for Nestlé India. Over the past five years, we have already reduced added sugars by up to 30 per cent, depending on the variant,” said a spokesperson for Nestlé India.

“Compliance is an essential characteristic of Nestlé India, and we will never compromise on that. We also ensure that our products manufactured in India are in full and strict compliance with Codex Alimentarius (Latin for ‘Food Code’) standards (a commission established by World Health Organization and Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) and local specifications (as required) pertaining to the requirements of all nutrients, including added sugars. We regularly review our portfolio and continue to innovate and reformulate our products to further reduce the level of added sugars, without compromising on nutrition, quality, safety, and taste,” the spokesperson added.

According to the investigation carried out by Public Eye, “Cerelac wheat-based cereals for six-month-old babies sold by Nestlé in Germany and the UK have no added sugar, while the same product contains over 5 grams per serving in Ethiopia and 6 grams in Thailand.”

In India, the same product contains 2.2 grams of sugar per serving.

“In India, where sales surpassed $250 million in 2022, all Cerelac baby cereals contain added sugar, on average nearly 3 grams per serving,” the Public Eye report stated.

The company sells 15 products under this range in the country.

“There is a double standard here that can’t be justified,” said Nigel Rollins, a scientist at the World Health Organization, when presented with the findings. For Rollins, the fact that Nestlé does not add sugar to these products in Switzerland but is quite happy to do it in lower resource settings “is problematic both from a public health and ethical perspective”, the report added.

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First Published: Apr 18 2024 | 12:17 PM IST

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