Last week, the chamber of deputies backed the proposal with 458 votes in favor and two abstentions.
The proposal will now go to the Senate where, according to Latin American regulatory expert at EAS Strategies, Eugenia Muinelo, it is likely to be approved.
“Since the proposal was filed by representatives from the official political party, plus the pressure from NGOs and relevant scientific institutions, it is expected that the proposal would pass the Senate without many implications. Although it is not clear, it could be approved before the end of 2019,” she said.
If approved by the Senate, the Ministry of Health will develop the regulation and set a time frame for enforcement. The current proposal does not specify an enforcement date.
WHO: 'Courageous leadership'
Following the vote, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, took to social media to congratulate Mexican policymakers for their “courageous leadership to beat non-communicable diseases (NCDs)”.
He tweeted: “WHO welcomes these legislative measures and hopes more countries will follow your lead in including warning signs on labels for processed foods and beverages.”
According to the Alliance for Food Health, a network that groups several public health organizations, the Mexican food industry has already begun lobbying the Senate against the warning labels.
Alejandro Calvillo, director of consumer rights organization El Poder del Consumidor, called on senators to put the interest of public health above commercial interests. He said: “The food and beverage industry will continue with its strategy of discrediting the proposal of a frontal warning labeling, however, senators and senators must endorse their commitment to the health of Mexicans,” he said. “[…] there is enough scientific evidence to prove that it is an effective policy to reduce the consumption of junk food”.
ConMexico, the trade group that represents manufacturers in Mexico such as Grupo Bimbo, Grupo Lala, Nestle and PepsiCo, did not respond to requests for comment.
However, soft drink trade group ANPRAC issued a statement saying it was in favor of providing sufficient information in a transparent, simple and clear manner to empower people to make informed decisions.
“We remain committed to offer expertise and evidence, nationally and internationally, in order to have objective information to make the best decisions in favor of Mexicans, seriously, flexibly and openly,” it said.
Stricter rules on marketing to kids
According to Muinelo, the warning labels would likely encourage food manufacturers to remove the nutrients in question from their products.
“In certain food categories it might be easier than for others, but mainly those products with amounts of sugars and saturated fats higher than others, are the ones where more reformulations could be expected.”
Muinelo told FoodNavigator-LATAM that further restrictions may be on the horizon.
“In addition, it could be possible that this discussion of changing the front-of-pack labeling scheme would be linked to more stringent marketing restrictions than those already existing, in relation to the use of images, animated characters and celebrities and the advertising directed to children.”
In Chile, manufacturers of products with warning labels are not allowed to use cartoon characters to appeal to children. One of the famous examples is Kellogg’s Frosties, known as Zucaritas in Latin America, which has had to remove Tony the Tiger from the front of the pack.