By: SANTIAGO LÓPEZ, Latin America and the Caribbean Regional Director at International Council of Beverages Associations
Providing information on the composition of the foods and beverages that we consume is one of the most effective policies to help us make informed choices on the food that we eat and, in turn, if this measure is well-structured can become an incentive for innovation and reformulation of the foods offered by manufacturers.
Notwithstanding, the way in which the debate is being carried out in our region has been unfortunate because we have been led to believe that the only type of valid nutritional front of package labelling (FOPL) is the one that is established in Chile, i.e., the stop signs high-In Octagon Symbol, disregarding other relevant experiences and considerations of other FOPL models that have been adopted by different countries around the world. In this debate, it is important to be aware, that in the world there are multiple mandatory or voluntary interpretive labels on packaged foods and drinks and the main trading partners of the Caribbean countries — while still concerned with the health of consumers— have a totally different focus from the one that is being forcibly imposed on the region.
For example, in Europe there is no Chilean FOPL model, and the discussion revolves around a model called the Nutri-Score known as the 5-Colour Nutrition rating system, which converts the nutritional value of products into a simple code consisting of five (5) letters, i.e., A, B, C, D and E, each with its own colour code, with “A” represented in green with a preferential score, and “E” being red with a detrimental score.
In Denmark, Iceland, Lithuania, Norway and Sweden, there is a keyhole graphic system which, as reported by the Swedish National Food Agency to WHO and FAO, has had a positive impact on product development. In Israel, the government introduced a mandatory round ‘red labels’ for packaged foods and beverages high in saturated fat, sugar or salt; in Brazil, a magnifying glass system is used to make products visible when they contain high amounts of nutrients and in Australia and New Zealand, the Health Star rating system is used to provide an overall summary score about the healthfulness of the product.
Now, if we look at the main trading partners to where we export and import our foods from, we will see that there are even more label designs in use or under consideration.
The United States use a monochromatic system called Facts Up Frontwhich displays calorie information and nutrient information aligned to the nutrition facts panel.
Canada discusses different schemes including a magnifying High-In glass model and the United Kingdom uses the UK Traffic Light Model –colour coded guideline for daily amounts- that use three different colours (red, yellow and green) corresponding to traffic light road signs, depending on the level of nutrient content. The quite logical thing to do is to look at what our partners are doing on this front before generating barriers to trade which could be translated into higher costs for consumers, on the foods and beverages of their choice.
The good regulatory practices require us to listen to arguments, review the evidence, compare between laws and regulatory frameworks and weight the cost effectiveness of the measures we would like to establish, this inevitably implies setting aside radical positions and being aware that there is no universal approach and interpretative FOP nutrition labels may differ according to national context, cultures and dietary needs and recommendations.
A final point: The debate cannot continue with the stigmatization of the productive sector. We ask that the productive sector be considered partners in this discussion. Participants in the debate must recognize the fundamental role of the food industry in supply, food security and the economy, a role that has been proven in the most sensitive moments of the pandemic where the strength of commitment of many, was having the options to take to our tables the food and beverages of our preference. The health concerns that we are seeking to help address with labels are complex problems, and they require the support of all for solution. The invitation is to see the picture broadly, make room for dialogue, and thus offer a FOPL solution that serves both the consumers and the economy while taking the health implications into account in the reduction of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs).