'Warning labels replace information with alarmism': New ABIA chair on nutrition labeling

By Niamh Michail

- Last updated on GMT

Warning style nutrition labels are used in Chile. © GettyImages/Fascinadora, © Ministry of Health of Chile
Warning style nutrition labels are used in Chile. © GettyImages/Fascinadora, © Ministry of Health of Chile
Nestlé Brazil's legal vice president Flavio de Souza, the new chair of Brazilian trade association ABIA, has slammed warning nutrition labels as misleading and alarmist.

De Souza has worked at Nestlé for 34 years and is currently vice-president of legal affairs, compliance, institutional affairs, and government relations at Nestlé Brazil.

He takes over from Wilson Mello, general secretary of Danone, who has given up the position at ABIA to head up Investe São Paulo, a business investment agency in the São Paulo area.

ABIA announced the new management line-up last week (29 March). De Souza will serve as ABIA president until 2020 and may be re-elected for a second two-year term.

Flavio de Souza, ABIA's new chair. © ABIA

"We are optimistic about 2019 and ABIA's mission is to strengthen dialogue with the public and private sectors, organized civil society and the consumer on important issues in society,”​ de Souza said. "Topics such as food and health, nutrition labeling, innovation and leadership in issues of sustainability and environmental preservation remain in the focus of action."

ABIA backs traffic light nutrition labels

Nutrition labeling is a hot topic for Brazil's food industry. The regulatory authority ANVISA is currently considering whether to adopt traffic light-style front-of-pack labeling or warning labels​, as in Chile. 

The Labeling Network is made up of 20 food industry stakeholders, including ABIA, that advocate the traffic light system.

De Souza told FoodNavigator-LATAM: “The Labeling Network  [...] advocates adopting a nutritional labeling model that will offer Brazilian consumers the basic information they need to make food choices with autonomy and consciousness, according to their individual characteristics and preferences.

De Souza said he considered warning models, which are under consideration by ANVISA, as misleading. “[They] replace information with alarmism​”.

“Therefore, the Labeling Network proposes a model in which nutritional information is presented on the front of the packages, in a clear and objective manner, highlighting the quantities of sugars, saturated fat, and sodium indicated on the basis of the portion usually consumed and also in the percentage relative to a daily diet of 2,000 kcal.

“In this model, nutrient information is enhanced by upper, middle, or lower captions and the use of colors (red, yellow, or green) applied on a white background to facilitate readability and understanding of information," ​he added.

2018 saw 'important structural changes'

According to ABIA, Mello and de Souza led “important structural changes​” in 2018, such as electing a new board of directors and executive board and creating an ethics, compliance and integrity committee.

It also “advanced on complex issues”. ​Last year, for instance, its members signed a voluntary plan with the Ministry of Health to cut over 144,000 tons of sugar from processed food and drink products by 2022.

Other trade groups - the Brazilian Manufacturers Association of Biscuits, Pasta and Industrialized Breads & Cakes (ABIMAPI), the Brazilian Association of Soft Drinks and Non-Alcoholic Beverages (ABIR) and the Brazilian Dairy Association - also signed the sugar reduction pledge.

ABIA was founded in 1963. Its members represent 70% of Brazil’s food and beverage manufacturing industry in terms of production value.

According to ABIA, Brazil’s food and drink processing sector directly generates 1.6 million jobs across 35,000 companies.

De Souza read law at the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo (PUC-SP), and completed additional postgraduate studies in the area of law, including Counseling in the American Legal System and Structuring International Joint Ventures at the University of California (Davis and Berkeley).

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