Source: ABC News
An Indian consumer group is conducting a pilot project for traffic light food labelling in a bid to fight growing levels of obesity.
The idea of traffic light labelling was abandoned in Australia in favour of a front-of-pack star-rating system.
But the Indian group, Consumer Voice, says the system can work.
The organisation is copying a scheme currently being implemented in the United Kingdom.
Ashok Kanchan from Consumer Voice says obesity is an emerging issue, particularly in metropolitan areas.
"Obesity is increasing, and another thing is people are more illiterate here, so by this system, one can identify the product which is healthier, and which is not healthier," he said.
Under the system, foods and drinks considered healthy are given the green light, amber means it is OK most of the time and red means it should be enjoyed occasionally.
Traffic light system designed to educate school students
It is designed for consumers to be able to make an assessment and comparisons of various foods at a glance.
Mr Kanchan says the amount of salt in the diets of Indians is also of concern.
He says the pilot scheme is designed first to educate school students about what is in their school canteen.
"We did a study in schools, covering about 10 schools and we took the samples of the canteen food and drinks, and then we analysed the products in a laboratory for fat, saturated fat, sugar, salt," he said.
"Then we converted the results in terms of the traffic lights."
Ultimately, it is hoped the traffic light system will allow children to quickly and easily make comparisons between products.
Consumer Voice has written to India's Food Standards Safety Authority to lobby it to implement traffic light labelling more broadly.
Strong opposition expected from the food industry
However, the group is yet to formally approach the food industry about the plan.
Mr Kanchan admits it is a tough sell.
"Industry will hesitate because there are so many players there which are selling their, we can say their junk food, loaded with fat," he said.
"They are selling it in the market so it's not an easy task to get it done, but no doubt we will pursue it."
In Australia, the traffic light system was favoured by health groups, but it was abandoned after intense opposition from the food industry.
Instead, the Australian Government announced a five-star rating system will be phased in over two years.
Jane Martin from the Obesity Policy Coalition says the emerging issue of obesity in India is alarming.
"India's facing a huge epidemic of chronic disease, and much of this is diet related, so it's interesting that they're already starting to move in this direction," she said.
"We'll have more evidence from the UK with the broader implementation of traffic lights in that country as to the potential influence.
"Then as the stars come in in Australia, we'll have quite a big natural experiment here too, as to how it can influence people's behaviours and what they buy."
Mr Kanchan says his organisation will watch Australia's moves with interest.
"I am not opposed to star labelling also. My basic concern is we want anything, star labelling or traffic light system, something should be there so that consumers can take note of it."
Obesity a growing concern
Consumer Voice has given the ABC access to startling statistics that it uses when speaking to students and other groups about the issue of obesity.
The information comes from a survey of almost 50,000 children across 18 states, and shows the rate of obesity is higher in children from northern India, with one in four children overweight in metropolitan areas.
One in six children is overweight in non-metropolitan areas.
Consumer Voice is also concerned about the amount of ready-to-eat food that is consumed by children of working parents.
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