Approved in August 2018, Uruguay’s Executive Decree No. 272/018 introduces the mandatory use of front-of-pack warning labels (similar to those already in place in Chile and Peru) on March 1, 2020.
According to some reports in Uruguayan national press, enforcing the regulation on nutrition labels - brought in by the government of President Tabaré Vázquez whose mandate ends on March 1, 2020 – will not be a priority for the new government.
However, many manufacturers have already begun adding the labels to their products and a guidance document, published by the government, can help manufacturers understand and comply with the new rules.
Products that exceed certain nutrient thresholds for sugar, salt, fat ,and saturated fat must bear a black and white octagonal stop sign that says, ‘Excess in’.
For ready-to-eat products, the nutrient thresholds are 500 mg of sodium per 100 g product; 20% of the total caloric value for sugars; 35% of the total caloric value for fat; and 12% of the total caloric value for saturated fat.
The regulation, which applies to all products sold in Uruguay whether produced domestically or imported, allows for some product category exceptions, such as infant formula, table-top sweeteners, foods for special medical purposes and dietary supplements are exempt.
Products that require additional ingredients to be added by the consumer in the home, such as cake mixes and soup powders that require butter or milk to be added, must take these extra ingredients into account. For pastry and dough, used by consumers to make empanadas or pies, however, manufacturers can declare the nutrient content of the final product sold to the consumer.
Naturally occurring fats in seeds, such as nuts or chia seeds, and sugars in fruit and vegetables used as food ingredients in a product are exempt.
If a product contains less than 7% added sugars, has no non-nutritive sweeteners and the caloric contribution from total sugars – including intrinsic sugars and lactose – represents less than 80% of the total caloric value of the ready-to-eat product, it does not need to add a warning label for excess sugar.
Additionally, products that were manufactured before August 31, 2018 and whose shelf life is more than 18 months, may be sold without having to adjust to the new rules.
Two-thirds of adult Uruguayans overweight or obese
The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) welcomed the warning labels as a measure to combat obesity in the small South American country. According to PAHO, two out of every three adults Uruguayans are overweight or obese while Uruguay is the country in Latin America that saw the biggest increase in the sale of ultra-processed products between 2000 and 2013 – 68.4% compared to 1.5% in Ecuador.
“Homemade food prepared from unprocessed or minimally processed foods has been displaced by ultra-processed products such as stuffed cookies, alfajores, instant pastries, nuggets, and hot dogs," it said.
CIALI voices opposition
The trade association representing the interests of food manufacturers, CIALI, however, opposed the warning labels, saying they would stigmatize products.
“We share the concern about the progress of chronic noncommunicable diseases, such as overweight and obesity, and we reiterate our support to collaborate with the solution,” it said in a statement. “However, labeling alone will not solve the issue of a disease that is multifactorial, and instead, will negatively impact the sector, which will have to label the vast majority of the food and beverage supply. This measure […] will not educate the population,” it added.