Indian Sellers Collective, an umbrella body of leading trade associations and sellers across the country, has come down heavily on a report by WHO which advocates restricting the growth of small independent retailers selling indigenous food items and alleged that the global health body is serving interests of MNCs.
Invoking national interest, Indian Sellers Collective has urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to initiate an investigation into the report prepared by the World Health Organization.
Highlighting the bias in the report, Indian Sellers Collective said the WHO report has proposed that zero-sugar carbonated drinks should not be classified under the same GST category as all carbonated drinks, which currently carry a 28 per cent tax rate coupled with a 12 per cent sin tax, totalling 40 per cent.
“This WHO report contradicts its own advisory of advocating prohibition of non-sugar sweeteners, commonly found in zero-sugar carbonated drinks. This contradictory stance appears to push a biased narrative by the global body, suggesting an agenda to promote products from multinational corporations in the Indian market. This positioning of carcinogenic non-sugar sweeteners by WHO is clearly geared to suit the interests of a few at the cost of the health of millions of Indians.
“Another worrisome aspect of the Report is that it disregards the generations old composition of Indian foods and calls for promoting artificially tinkered foods based on untested scientific claims. We must not blindly adopt Western policies aiming to alter our culinary traditions and food products. Indian cuisine, finely attuned to our climate and genetic makeup, has evolved over centuries. The WHO’s claim that high-salt Indian food is detrimental to our health is fallacious,” said Abhay Raj Mishra, Member and National Coordinator, Indian Sellers Collective.
Another important point Indian Sellers Collective highlighted is that the WHO report has also advocated for the implementation of the Draft Notifications on Food Safety and Standards (Labelling & Display) Amendment Regulations (2022) proposed by the FSSAI. Due to the Front-of-Pack Nutrition Labelling (FOPNL) Indian foods will receive lower star rankings and will be classified as unhealthy and ultimately face rejection by consumers. It will lead to an unfair advantage for western alternatives, which have in reality been fortified and chemically altered by MNCs solely with the purpose of achieving a higher ranking.
The Indian Sellers Collective feels there is an urgent need to safeguard Indian consumers’ interests by strengthening and increasing the mandate of domestic research bodies such as Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) so that they can conduct extensive studies tailored to Indian dietary habits along with studying the health implications of reformulated foods.
Many Indian food products that are consumed in the north, south, east and western parts of the country are manufactured by cottage industries and MSMEs specific to those areas. These food products include time tested best sellers like khakra, murukku, dal sev, bhujiya and much more.
Indian Sellers Collective believes that there is a surreptitious agenda to change India’s food palate and this report by WHO is yet another effort in that direction. It also alleged that the report has the potential to cause immense damage to the MSME sector as small retailers and unorganised food manufacturers generate millions of jobs.