Mexico votes to strengthen food and beverage warning labels

By Asia Sherman

- Last updated on GMT

© Getty Images / Aleksandr_Vorobev
© Getty Images / Aleksandr_Vorobev

Related tags: labeling, Warning labels, Nutritional labelling

Legislators in Mexico passed a new law that will require strong front-of-pack nutrition warning labels on processed foods and non-alcoholic beverages.

The Alliance for Healthy Food, a Mexican civil society network, celebrated the decision as a watershed moment towards a comprehensive policy to address the obesity and diabetes epidemic affecting Mexico’s population.

“This labeling allows Mexico to position itself as a benchmark in public policies to combat overweight, obesity and diabetes,” ​said Ana Larrañaga, coordinator of ContraPESO, a coalition that works to change consumption patterns in Mexico. “We thank the senators and hope that more and more countries join to protect their populations.”

The new law, approved unanimously in both houses, reforms and adds various provisions to the General Health Law to require “easy to understand, truthful, direct, simple and visible”​ nutritional information. Labels will adopt the same system already implemented in Chile, Uruguay and Peru to inform consumers about products high in sugar, sodium and saturated fat.

The decision comes shortly after Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador announced an unprecedented nutrition information campaign​, issued with the public support of the country’s food and beverage industry.

“We urge other countries facing a high burden of obesity to follow Mexico’s example, standing up to pressure from a powerful food and beverage lobby to implement policies that prompt consumers to make healthier choices,”​ said José Luis Castro, President and Chief Executive Officer at Vital Strategies, a global public health organization that partners with governments and civil society organizations around the world.

Companies will have 180 days to implement the new labeling system once the law is signed by the president and published in the Official Gazette.

Labeling that prioritizes public health

Mexico’s previous labeling system, instituted in 2015, was based on Guideline Daily Amounts (GDA) developed by a food industry consortium and one of the most prevalent front-of-pack nutrition labeling systems in the world.

GDAs, however, only provide a voluntary benchmark against which the contribution from specific nutrients per portion of a food product can be assessed. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund, “evidence has shown this format to be misleading even among highly educated adults”,​ and the strategy has done little to fight obesity in Mexico, particularly among the country’s children and most vulnerable populations.

Mexico has one of highest levels of consumption of processed products in the world. Approximately 70 percent of adults and a third of children are overweight or obese, the primary risk factor for chronic non-communicable diseases including diabetes, cancer, heart attack and stroke.

Without significant change, it is estimated that by 2050 only 12 percent of males and nine percent of females​ in Mexico would be a normal weight, more people would be obese than overweight, and the cost of related diseases is projected to increase to at least $US 1.7 billion.

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