Indian Sellers Collective Opposes WHO's Nutrient-Based Tax Model

Recently, a WHO report titled ‘The growth of ultra-processed foods in India: An analysis of trends’ has created a debate within India’s culinary landscape. It suggests increasing tax on non-packaged and unlabelled foods, which are currently taxed at 5 percent under the GST regime (Goods and Service Tax). The report was published by the World Health Organisation along with the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations. 

 What Does The Report Say?

 According to this report, India’s ultra-processed food sector grew at a compound annual growth rate of 13.37 percent in retail sales value from 2011 to 2021. The annual growth rate of this sector declined sharply when the pandemic first struck, dropping from 12.65 percent in 2019 to 5.50 percent in 2020; however, a significant bounce in sales occurred the following year when 11.29 percent growth was seen during 2020–2021.

According to the British Heart Foundation, ultra-processed foods are those that have a long shelf life and generally include five or more ingredients that are preservatives, emulsifiers, sweeteners, and artificial colours and flavours. The WHO report said the upward trend should be restricted with policy interventions to prevent an obesity epidemic in India, as faced by some western countries.

Chocolate and sugar confectionery, salty snacks, beverages, ready-made and convenient foods, as well as breakfast cereals, were identified as the five popular categories of ultra-processed foods in the report. Mentioning the retail sales volume, the researchers said that beverage share was the highest during 2011–2021, followed by chocolate and sugar confectionery and ready-made and convenience food in second and third place, respectively. 

The report has recommended that the Food Safety And Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) and GST Council make a nutrient-based tax model that concentrates on higher taxes for products that have fat, sugar, and salt beyond the recommended levels and lower taxes for the healthier options.

This report has sparked controversy, as it could have significant implications for the Indian food and beverage industry.

The Indian Sellers Collective has opposed the WHO recommendations. According to them, the report is an "assault on Indian cuisine and heritage" and promotes artificial and unhealthy foods.

They also alleged that it is a "proxy report on behalf of global Coca-Cola and food MNCs," implying that it is an agenda of multinational corporations to undermine traditional Indian foods and takeover our market. The Indian Sellers Collective is a collective organisation that represents various trade associations and representative bodies of Indian sellers throughout the country.

They have also sent a representative to the Indian government, appealing to them to investigate the issue. Abhay Raj Mishra, a member and National Coordinator of the Indian Sellers Collective, alleged that the WHO report disregards the generation-old composition of Indian foods and calls for promoting artificially altered foods based on untested scientific claims.