Is Front-of-Pack labeling set for harmonization?

By Natasha Spencer

- Last updated on GMT

© Getty Images / Goran13
© Getty Images / Goran13
As the development of front-of-pack (FOP) labeling continues to evolve to meet ever-growing consumer and market needs for transparency, we look at their prevalence and the current measures being explored to harness the functional food and nutrition markets with David Pineda Ereño, Advisor on Strategy, Policy and Regulation at DPE International Consulting.

Throughout Latin America, there is a general trend towards adopting and implementing front-of-pack (FOP) labeling systems in processed foods and beverages to specify on the front side of the label or package the quantity of salt, sugar and fat contained in the product.

The entry of FOP labeling has been heavily prompted in Latin America by leading influential supporters, namely the World Health Organisation, the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), Parlatino (The Latin American and the Caribbean Parliament) and the Codex Alimentarius Commission.

PAN adopted FOP labeling in 2012 and revised in 2016 its own Nutrient Profile Model, calling for FOP labeling applications to declare the excess of sugar, fat, sodium in processed foods. Parlatino has also implemented ‘Model Laws’ following PAHO recommendations, while the Codex Alimentarius Commission is developing general principles for the application of FOP labeling systems.

Impact of New Guidelines

David Pineda Ereño, Adviser on Strategy, Policy and Regulation at DPE International Consulting describes the Codex Alimentarius Commission, which introduces international standards on food and beverages, as “an intergovernmental organization with very important influence in the region”​.

At present, the organization is discussing the development of general guidelines on FOP labeling to provide governments with internationally harmonized general criteria to take into account when considering whether to adopt a FOP labeling system at national level.

Shedding light on the current potential and actions regarding the implementation of FOP labeling, Pineda Ereño emphasizes how “in this regard, governments at national level and in their discussions for regional harmonization are awaiting the development of those Codex Guidelines to adopt their own models”​.

FOP Labeling Systems Variations

While advocacy for strengthened FOP labeling systems by such organizations is present, these are not universal; different FOP labeling systems coexist in different Latin American markets.

Ecuador uses a traffic light system inspired by the United Kingdom’s model; Mexico boasts guideline daily amounts; and Chile, Peru and Uruguay adopt black colored octagonal stamps with warning statements, with some differences in the format and the nutrient profiles on the basis of which the system is applied. In addition, several countries and regions are evaluating different systems such as octagonal stamps with statements, traffic lights and nutriscores.

“The Chilean model of octagonal stamps with warning statements is the system that is gaining a lot of focus in the Latin America region, considering the support expressed by the WHO and PAHO on the system,” ​explains Pineda Ereño.

Calling the trend “clear”​, Pineda Ereño goes onto report how other Latin American countries are currently considering implementing their own systems at a national level to ensure they are rolled out throughout the country.

“In addition to Peru and Uruguay, which have adopted the system with some variations, we can see now very recently that the Mexican government is proposing to develop a similar system but requiring further warning statements on the label,” ​Pineda Ereño added.

One Harmonized FOP Labeling System?

Analyzing consumer, governmental and organizational attitudes and perspectives regarding the emergence of FOP labeling indicates how LATAM countries are progressively exploring harmonization.

Alongside implementation actions, for example, the initiative to harmonize FOP labeling systems is being discussed in three Latin American trade blocs: the Southern Common Market (Mercosur), the Pacific Alliance and the Central American Integration System (SICA).

Brazil, for example, undertook a comprehensive evaluation, studying various FOP labeling systems and launching a public consultation receiving 33.000 comments.

“Although a year ago it seemed that the authorities were inclined to develop a FOP labeling system with triangle (rather than octagonal) stamps with warning statements, at present all other options are still open,​” Pineda Ereño explained.

Amid interest for the Mercosur Member States to harmonize FOP labeling, a discussion on uniting FOP labeling systems to create such harmonization at Mercosur level has just initiated, and Brazil supports these discussions to proceed.

Mexico recently supported, by way of a proposal, for the arrival of FOP labeling based on octagonal stamps with warning statements. “The first reactions are that this proposal would bring very significant challenges to operators in the market,”​ Pineda Ereño revealed, with key talks with all stakeholders expected to take place in August 2019.