Conflicting messages found on food and beverage labels in Brazil

By Asia Sherman

- Last updated on GMT

© Getty Images / Tonygers
© Getty Images / Tonygers

Related tags: Food labelling, ANVISA

Unhealthy packaged products in the Brazilian food supply present conflicting information on front-of-package labels, a recent study shows.

The research, published in Nutrients​ journal, assesses the prevalence of front-of-package claims and examines whether products with claims were more likely to be high in critical ingredients like sugar, fat and sodium.

“Taken together, our findings from a large sample of Brazilian packaged foods and beverages, sold in supermarkets in the country that control 70% of the retail market share contribute to the literature by showing the pervasive presence of nutrition and health claims in unhealthy products,even more so among those highly consumed by children and adolescents,” ​the researchers note.

The publication of the findings comes as Brazil’s Health Regulatory Agency (ANVISA) advances strategies to respond to the increase of ultra-processed foods in the country – estimated at 20 to 30 percent of a Brazilian’s daily caloric intake.

In December, ANVISA concluded its public consultation phase on the implementation of a front-of-package warning label system​ and is discussing restricting the use of nutrition claims for foods high-in critical ingredients, a policy supported by the study.

Methods

The researchers used cross-sectional data from a random 30 percent subsample of 11,434 foods and beverages collected in the country’s five largest food retailers in 2017.

Claims – including brand names and slogans – were classified into nutrition, health or environment-related claims and assessed based on their presence on front-of-package overall and then by food category.

The study then described how many of these foods were high in critical ingredients and examined whether products with different types of claims were more likely to be high in critical ingredients using 95 percent confidence intervals.

The result is a stratified analysis of the proportion of different types of claims by foods high in free sugar, total fats, saturated fats, trans fat and sodium. Researchers also evaluated the presence of nonnutritive sweeteners.

Findings

Eugenia Muinelo, Manager, Regulatory Affairs for EAS Strategies Latin America, told FoodNavigator-LATAM:

“Brazil’s consultation period of the proposed changes to the nutrition labeling rules closed on December 9th, 2019. The Brazilian sanitary authority, ANVISA, has already published the compilation of comments received and now they should be drafting the final regulation in order to discuss with ANVISA’s board of directors.

“Once it gets green light from the board, it should be then published in the Official Gazette. All this is expected to happen in the course of the next 3 months.”

The study found claims in a 23.5 percent of the assessed products that were high in any of the critical ingredients, using the Pan American Health Organization nutrient profile model.

There were claims in 41.2% of the products, with nutrition claims most prevalent (28.5%), followed by health (22.1%) and environment-related claims (5.2%).  By food category, researchers found the most claims in breakfast cereals and granola bars, fruit juices and nectars and fruit-flavored drinks.

Of these, more products with nutrition claims were high in critical ingredients and are therefore eligible to receive warning labels, as compared with those not eligible. Without restricting claims concomitantly, the researchers say, these products would present conflicting messaging.

“Restricting the presence of nutrition claims in foods high in critical nutrients should be part of regulatory processes that aim to help consumers make healthier choices at the point of purchase and an essential part of discussions to implement clearer FoP nutritional labeling,” ​the study concludes.

Source: Nutrients 
2019, 11​(12), 2967; doi: 10.3390/nu11122967
“Conflicting Messages on Food and Beverage Packages: Front-of-Package Nutritional Labeling, Health and Nutrition Claims in Brazil”
Authors: A.C. Duran, et al.

Related topics: Regulation

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