Newspaper- The Hindu Business Line
Section- Opinion
Page- 11
Date- May 13th 2011.


Watch your health food basket
Rajashree Sharma

Nutraceuticals offer health benefits, but they are not magic bullets against health problems.
Health foods, or nutraceuticals have, in recent years, evoked interest among increasingly health-conscious consumers. A nutraceutical is in the nature of a food, fortified food or dietary supplement that provides health benefits.
If the manufacturer claims it has a medicinal benefit, the product will have to comply with the regulatory requirements for medicinal products, in respect of safety, efficacy and quality testing, apart from marketing authorisation procedures.
Nutraceuticals cover a wide range of products from novel food to probiotics and energy drinks to fat-free products. The Indian nutraceuticals market is dominated primarily by fast-moving consumer goods and the pharmaceutical industry.
Although India has no guidelines or regulations for the nutraceutical segment, a framework is being put in place. In order to achieve global acceptance, the Union Government is working on standards to regulate the manufacture, storage, distribution, sale and import of such foods, to ensure availability of safe and wholesome food for human consumption.


LAW FOR NUTRACEUTICALS

The Food Safety Standards Authority (FSSAI) is the apex body for food and nutrition and is responsible for framing rules and regulations to govern the nutraceuticals market in India.
In 2006, the Indian government passed Food Safety and Standards Act to integrate and streamline the many regulations covering nutraceuticals, foods and dietary supplements. There were multiple laws and regulations covering the foods in India, but there was no single law that could have significantly regulate nutraceutical and functional foods.
Further, the food safety administration is understaffed and the 250 food sample testing labs are insufficient. India should gear up to increase number of testing labs and staff and enforce the upcoming regulation. With time, there will be a need to develop clinical documentation and establish a scientific basis to support health claims of safety and efficacy. In fact, the term ‘nutraceutical' may go out of usage.
The draft Bill will cover safety issues with regard to information provided to the consumers on products such as dietary supplements, functional foods, fortified food and infant food. Products will be labelled differently.
A special medical category will be labelled ‘on medical advice', while novel food would have to undergo risk analysis and marketing approvals. Special foods with a claim that they cure diseases will fall under the purview of drugs and not food. Proprietary food will not be included in a large way. The Indian nutra sector is driven by functional food and beverages. There is a latent market in India as concept of nutraceuticals is still infant and untapped and there is no regulatory framework in place.


MARKET POTENTIAL

India and China are considered as fastest growing markets as the products are gaining acceptance for their ability to address health issues. As per report, vitamins, minerals and nutrients constitute about 85 per cent of the total nutra market while antioxidants and anti-agents account for 10 per cent, while the herbal extracts segment occupies 5 per cent of the market globally.
The proposed legislation aims to establish a single window for all matters relating to food safety and standards, by moving from multi-level, multi-departmental control to a single line of command. It incorporates the salient provisions of the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act 1954 and is based on international legislations, Instrumentalities and Codex Alimentarius Commission.
Nutraceuticals potentially offer health benefits but they are not magic bullets for health problems. The passing of the legislation will be a significant step. Further, nutraceuticals need to be categorised based on their natural ingredients as in tUS, Europe and Japan. With the Indian regulatory body becoming more stringent the market will grow in a much organised way.
(The author is Partner, Corporate Law Group, New Delhi.)