Food labeling: how is the unified project that seeks to advance in the Senate

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It adopts the Chilean model of black stamps that warn of excess sugars, fat, sodium and calories on the front of the packages.

Front labeling of food is an outstanding debt in Argentina. While countries in the region such as Chile, Uruguay, Peru, Mexico, Ecuador and recently Brazil made progress in the incorporation of labels on the front of the containers that warn or inform – according to the model – about the excess of critical nutrients such as sugar, sodium, fat and caloriesHere the initiatives promoted in the previous administration by the former Secretary of Health Adolfo Rubinstein were shipwrecked as a result of the bidding between his area and that of Production. Now, the debt could be settled through the legislative process: official and opposition senators are working on a unified bill, which has the endorsement of the Ministries of Health; Agriculture, Livestock and fishing; and Productive Development.

The draft of the Law for the Promotion of Healthy Eating emerged from a consensus on the key points of other 13 who were in dance in the Upper House. That text was discussed yesterday during a joint plenary session of the Health and Industry and Commerce commissions, which lasted for four hours.

“Guarantee the right to health and adequate food through the promotion of a healthy diet, providing simple nutrition information and understanding of packaged foods and non-alcoholic beverages, to promote assertive and active decision-making, and safeguard the rights of consumers “is one of the main objectives of the project promoted by the official senators Anabel Fernández Sagasti and Silvia Sapag, and from the opposition by Gladys González and Julio Cobos.

Front labeling is a key tool in that regard. The text establishes that packaged foods and non-alcoholic beverages “in whose manufacturing process, or in that of some of its ingredients, sodium, sugars or fats have been added, and in whose final composition the content of critical nutrients exceeds the established values According to this law, they must include a warning stamp on the main face of the container “.

That seal, according to the draft presented yesterday, will take the form of black octagons with white border and uppercase letters. The size of the seal may never be less than 5% of the surface of the main face of the container or be covered (partially or totally) by any other element. The maximum values ​​for calories, total sugars, saturated fat and sodium must comply with the nutrient profile of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).

Popularly known as the “Chilean model”, because it was the first to implement the black warning stamps in 2016, it is the one promoted by PAHO and was also adopted by Uruguay and Peru.

In case of containing sweeteners, the container must also display this precautionary legend under the seals: “Contains sweeteners, not recommended for children”. And foods and beverages that present excess of some critical nutrient will not be able to incorporate supplementary nutritional information (claims) in relation to that nutrient.

The project also establishes the prohibition of all forms of advertising of products that contain at least one critical nutrient in excess, which is aimed especially at children and adolescents, and the general population. And it also prohibits the inclusion of children’s characters, animations, cartoons, celebrities, athletes or pets; the promise of prizes and participation in contests, among other incentives that promote the consumption of the product.

Childhood obesity is one of the most pressing public health problems. In Argentina, children and adolescents eat considerably worse than adults and 4 out of 10 are overweight or obese, according to the latest Nutrition and Health Survey (ENNyS 2) of 2018. That is why the project also dedicates a chapter to the promotion of healthy eating in primary and secondary schools. Y “suggests” the ban of marketing, sale and promotion of food and beverages that contain any warning seal in those establishments.

We are on a very good path and happy with this progress after so much time of inaction, “said Health Minister Ginés González García, the first of the more than 20 invited speakers in the plenary session. He used the anti-tobacco law as an example of success: in the years after its In implementation, the prevalence of smoking dropped from 30% to around 20% and he said he hopes this project could lead to declines in obesity numbers.

In our country, almost 7 out of 10 over 18 years of age are overweight. The advance of ultra-processed products in the diet (locally, 15% of the recommended daily energy is provided by cookies and soft drinks), added to the increasing sedentary lifestyle, are two of the factors linked to the rise in obesity and overweight rates , which increase the risk of non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some types of cancer.

“I am very pleased with this consensual project. It is one of the projects that we promoted the most and we could not do it“, said in turn his predecessor in Health, Adolfo Rubinstein, who considers childhood obesity the main public health problem, so the problem was assumed as one of the priorities of his administration.” I am really very happy because the The Senate has put on its shoulder one of the most substantive policies and I am happy that the Executive is accompanying, “he said.

“It is the first time that the three ministries have agreed on the need for a frontal labeling of food,” underlined the Secretary of Food of the Ministry of Agriculture, Marcelo Alós. “For us it is key to have a harmonized policy with our Mercosur partners,” he said. The text establishes that the provisions referring to front labeling will apply “in a complementary way” with the adjustments that come from the Mercosur regulations.

“We have political will. We are not opposed to labeling without has no demonization purposes of food, “said Daniel Funes de Rioja, president of the Coordinator of Food Products Industries (Copal), critic of the proposed model.” I do not agree that the Chilean model is the best. It seems appropriate that Brazil has taken pace in this and that Uruguay has left a window clause to adapt to Mercosur legislation when it is there. “

“Mercosur regulations state that no country should be prevented from adopting measures to protect health, we believe that Mercosur should not be used as a delaying argument to implement a food labeling policy, “said Luciana Castronuovo, of the Inter-American Heart Foundation (FIC).

It’s not about demonizing food -answered the senator from Mendoza Julio Cobos, one of the authors of the project-. Be clear and concise. There is a lot of experience in Chile with octagons and with Ecuador of the semaphore. This is the simplest model. We are not prohibiting anything, we are warning. “

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