The Sunday Leader

To Be A Nation In The Pink Of Health

  • Food and drink industry sees red as Health Ministry launches traffic-light colour-coding

by Hafsa Sabry

The Ministry of Health last week announced that beginning in August, the displaying of colour codes according to sugar content percentage will be mandatory for all sugary soft drink products.

Health, Nutrition and Indigenous Medicine Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne said that gazette N0. 86 of 1980 to introduce a colour chart indicating sugar levels in bottles of soft drink would be implemented from August 1. Based on the colour chart, red colour should be used if the sugar content is over 11g per 100ml and amber colour should be displayed if the sugar level is between 2g and 11g per 100ml. If the sugar content is less than 2g, green colour will be displayed.

The regulation’s colour-coding system can be described as ‘traffic-light food labelling’where food and beverage products are to be labelled red, amber and green, indicating high, medium and low salt or sugar concentration.

Colour coding also tells you at a glance if food items have high, medium or low amounts of fat, saturated fat, sugars and salt. Red means the food or drink is high in a particular nutrient and the public is advised to consume these less often and in small amounts. Amber indicating medium amounts, one may consume food and drink with all or mostly ambers most of the time and green indicating low amounts, it means greens are the healthier choice.

“This will help control the spread of non- communicable diseases,” Minister Senaratne said.

He said a meeting with soft drink manufacturers registered under the Sri Lanka Chamber of Commerce had been held recently to discuss the implementation of colour coding and from August 1 all soft drinks should display their sugar levels according to the contents. The minister claimed that some soft drink manufactures were against this move. The ministry had made it mandatory for all to abide by the gazette notification as the health ministry has been working towards the implementation of the rule for the last five years.

Further, steps will be taken to issue an order to tobacco companies to print cigarette packs without entering remarks about the product as well, the statement added. The legislation which makes it compulsory to carry pictorial warnings covering 80 percent of the cigarette pack was unanimously passed in parliament earlier.

The Nutrition Coordination Department’s (NCD) Dr. S. Ellawela speaking to The Sunday Leader said sugar in soft drinks greatly contributes towards the rise in non-communicable diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer and obesity and therefore the ministry has made mandatory for the codes to be displayed as part of their salt-and-sugar-reduction programme.

The sugar requirement is between 10 and 12 grams or two teaspoons a day whereas the average Sri Lankan consumes about 60 grams a day.Dr. Ellawela said about 70 percent of the nation’s deaths occur due to non-communicable diseases linked to the increased intake of salt and sugar over a long period.

Since the proposed regulations would require tea boutiques (small cafes), food outlets and restaurants to provide sugar and salt separately instead of adding these to the meal or drink, it took five years for the gazette notification to be implemented. Dr. Ellawela said that in most wayside cafes in Sri Lanka, a cup of tea contains more sugar than is necessary.

Consumption of sugar in high amounts, particularly in the form of beverages, can lead to an increase in total sugar intake and a reduction in the consumption of more nutritionally valuable food, thus leading to an unhealthy diet, increased weight and risk of non-communicable diseases, Dr. Ellawela added.

Children who are overweight are more likely to develop illnesses such as type 2 diabetes, have an increased likelihood of weight and health problems in adolescence and are more likely to become overweight or obese adults.

The NCD unit also said the regulations were at discussion level as they were faced with practical limitations such as lack of facilities to monitor a large number of small-scale sweet and snacks manufacturers. But, the regulations will be applied to packed food items and beverages, carbonated beverages, sweets – both locally-made and imported, cakes, doughnuts, energy drinks, fruit juices with high amounts of added sugar, ketchup, and cream biscuits.

Media Secretary to the Health Ministry, Nipun Ekanayake said soft drinks manufacturers did not want to implement colour as it would result in a decrease in business but the ministry has made it mandatory to those who are registered under the Sri Lanka Chamber of Commerce.

The Health Ministry said beverages full of sugar were mostly consumed by children among whom diabetes was on the rise and that unless manufacturers of food and drinks voluntarily helped the national drive to arrest the alarming increase in the rate of non-communicable diseases, stern action would have to be taken.

Colour coding will be displayed just as information on the back of a pack which is compulsory provides details about the ingredients, nutritional composition, known allergens, ‘best before’ or ‘use-by’ dates and the weight of the product. The ingredients are listed in order, starting with the highest-quantity ingredient first, down to the lowest- quantity ingredient last.

“If you find sugar at the top of the list, the food is likely to be high in sugar,” the Media Secretary stated.  The objective of this regulation was to make it easier for people to make informed choices based on how healthy a particular food is.


1 Comment for “To Be A Nation In The Pink Of Health”

  1. gamarala

    The “grams per 100 cc” will be an accurate indication, and is universally implemented.
    Colours are confusing.

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