The draft bill aims to promote the right to healthy food in the member countries of the South American bloc: Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.
Jointly produced by the Mercosur parliament’s Uruguayan president Daniel Caggiani along with parliamentarians Luis Gallo (Uruguay), Enzo Cardoso (Paraguay), Gaston Harispe (Argentina) and Carlos Gomes (Brazil), the draft bill was presented to the bloc’s parliament on World Food Day last week (16 October). The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) also collaborated.
The proposal is due to be discussed in the next Parlasur plenary session in November.
While recognizing that processed food alone is not responsible for obesity and non-communicable diseases, the draft bill proposes mandatory front-of-pack labeling for packaged products when critical nutrients - sugar, sodium, total fat, trans fats, and saturated fat - exceed certain thresholds, aligned with Pan American Health Organization recommendations.
Products with excessive amounts of any nutrient must not be marketed in such a way that consumers might wrongly perceive them to be healthy, the bill reads.
'These laws are necessary to face the epidemic'
A statement issued by the Mercosur Parliament said: “According to PAHO, Mercosur countries occupy the first places in the Americas in the sale of ultra-processed products of low nutritional value and an excessive amount of total fats, saturated fats, trans fats, sodium, and sugars."
Excessive consumption of such products is associated with the development of obesity and other non-communicable diseases, it added.
“In this context, the Mercosur region has been showing an increase [in NCDs] not only in adults but also in children and adolescents. To face the epidemic, it is necessary to implement policies, regulations, and laws related to the marketing of products with an unhealthy nutritional profile, including the application of a frontal nutritional labeling system.”
Foods for special medical purposes, weight management products such as meal replacements, dietary supplements, infant formula and table-top sweeteners would be exempt from a front-of-pack label.
The draft bill also proposes that governments actively promote healthy and sustainable produce "in particular, the consumption of organic fruits and vegetables from family farming, allocating a quota of public purchases for education centers to this type of food and this type of environmentally friendly production."
Before becoming law, the bill would also require the backing of Mercosur’s Common Market Council (CMC), which is made up of ministers of the economy and foreign affairs of each member state, as well as national parliaments.
Traffic lights and stop signs
Front-of-pack labeling is a hot topic in Latin American as the region struggles to curb rising obesity rates.
Ecuador introduced a traffic light labeling system based on the UK’s model while black and white, octagonal warning labels are in place in Chile and Peru and will come into force in Uruguay next year.
Mexican Brazilian authorities also look likely to adopt warning labels while Argentinian policy-makers in the past indicated they are considering a ‘hybrid’ nutrition label based on both the warning model and guideline daily amounts (GDA).