India: nearly 15% of protein supplements are unsafe for consumption

According to a survey conducted by the Food Safety Standard Authority of India (FSSAI) between 2021 and 2022, almost 15% of protein powders (dietary supplements used by athletes and bodybuilders) sold in India were found to be unfit for consumption.    

FSSAI tested 144 345 samples during the survey. 16 582 samples were found to be substandard, 11 482 had packing/labeling issues, and 4 890 were found to be unsafe for consumption.  

Considering these results, the authority has initiated criminal proceedings against at least 4 900 defaulters, with civil lawsuits being initiated in 28 906 other cases, resulting in the punishment of 19 437 offenders.    

Protein powders are usually consumed as a dietary supplement to gain muscle mass, and their formulations typically involve a range of additives. Health experts said that the consumption of unsafe products can lead to kidneys, liver and heart problems, in addition to other health issues.    

To protect the consumers, monitoring programs are regularly conducted by FSSAI, which has notified specific rules to regulate the production and sale of protein powders and other dietary supplements in India.    

The food regulator has been working with stakeholders to implement restrictions on the circulation of nutraceuticals (which are sold as drug substitutes but have both pharmaceutical and nutritional properties) and to control ingredient mislabeling.  

The authority started regulating the sale of these products in 2016 by drafting rules for eight categories of foods, specifically: health supplements, nutraceuticals, foods for special dietary use, foods for special medical purposes, specialty foods containing plants or plants, foods with probiotics, foods with prebiotics and novel foods. The rules included detailed descriptions of the composition of these products, ruling out the use of hormones, steroids, and psychotropic ingredients, while permitting other ingredients, such as colors and additives (as permitted in Schedule VF of the regulations) and identical natural or artificial flavors (as permitted in the Standards for Food Products and Food Additives Regulations, 2011). The amount of nutrients added to these products must not exceed the recommended daily allowance, as defined by the Indian Council of Medical Research and accepted by the FSSAI. The rules came into force in 2018.  

FSSAI also stressed the necessity of establish a Resource Center for Health Supplements and Nutrients (ReCHaN), in partnership with the International Alliance of Dietary Supplements/Dietary Supplement Associations, and with the collaboration of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII). To do so, FSSAI initiated a dialogue with stakeholders to adopt internationally recognized best practices.