IBFAN defends Mexico’s warning label against food industry attacks
Subject: Review of the appeal of unconstitutionality 358/2022
The ultra-processed products and sugary drinks industry is seeking, through injunctions, to delay and eliminate Mexico’s front warning labeling, putting their commercial interests before the health of Mexicans. despite the fact that the front warning labeling that is supported by national and international organizations, and has shown to be a tool that could help curb the obesity and diabetes crisis that Mexico is going through.
IBFAN has written to the Mexican Supreme Court to defend Mexico’s front-of-pack warning labels, that we consider a model for countries in the region.
There strong evidence-base showing the effectiveness of the warning label system that is now recommended by UNICEF and the Pan-American Health Organization.(1) Warnings were first adopted in Chile and have proved to me a much more effective system than traffic-light or GDA systems in informing consumers about high levels of sugars, fats or sodium in products, products that are all too often ultra-processed, with all this attendant risks. (2) Peru, Israel, Uruguay, Mexico and soon Brazil, Colombia and Argentina are now implementing warning labels and Canada and various countries, including in the Caribbean, may soon follow.
The industry tactics have parallels with the opposition that we have faced in our work to strengthen regulations on the marketing of baby feeding products, where the baby food industry uses the six tobacco industry tactics to undermine political will to adopt strong legislation: (1) maneuvering to hijack the political and legislative process; (2) exaggerating economic importance of the industry; (3) manipulating public opinion to gain appearance of respectability; (4) fabricating support through front groups; (5) discrediting proven science; and (6) intimidating governments with litigation.(3)
Results Digital marketing of formula and baby food was self-reported by 93.9% of parents in the online survey and observed by 93.7% in the capture-on-screen. Recorded ads did not comply with the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes. Parents who self-reported seeing a higher versus lower number of ads were less likely to exclusive breast feed (OR=0.38; 95% CI: 0.19 to 0.78), and more likely to give mixed feeding (OR=2.59; 95% CI: 1.28 to 5.21), formula (OR=1.84; 95% CI: 1.34 to 2.53), processed foods (OR=2.31; 95% CI: 1.59 to 3.32) and sugary drinks (OR=1.66; 95% CI: 1.09 to 2.54). Higher exposure to ads was associated with a higher chance of purchasing products motivated by nutritional (OR=2.1; 95% CI: 1.32 to 3.28) and organic claims (OR=2.1; 95% CI: 1.21 to 3.72).
Conclusions Digital marketing of formula and baby food may negatively influence IYCF and should be regulated to ensure children’s nutrition and health.
Update on the Mexican Front-of-pack warning label in the Supreme Court
In fall 2020, a front-of-package (FOP) warning label was implemented in Mexico after an inclusive, democratic, government-led process that included months of development of multi-sectoral working group and one of the most participatory public consultations on a national sanitary standard in Mexico’s history, as well as a legislative reform to Mexico’s General Health Law passed in both chambers of Congress. The Mexican FOP warning label was implemented to support prevention and control of obesity and chronic disease in Mexico, seeking to curb the high consumption of ultraprocessed foods and beverages, as well as to contribute to the protection of the right to health, food, information and children’s rights.
The front-of-package warning label implemented in Mexico is comprised of black octagons that inform consumers if a product has an excess of added sugars, saturated or trans-fat, sodium and calories. It also includes two legends that specify if a product contains non-caloric sweeteners and/or caffeine, stating that products with these ingredients should be avoided by children. The warning label policy also has special protections for children, because products with a warning label or legend cannot have characters, brand mascots, celebrities, mazes, games or other child-targeted elements on the product package. In addition, for smaller product packages, mini warning labels must be applied to the package.
Mexico`s front-of-package warning label system, implemented in 2020.
The Mexican warning label was heralded by UNICEF and the Pan-American Health Organization as the “best” system and an example that other countries should follow. In 2020, the Mexican Ministry of Health received an award from the United Nations, presented by the Director-General of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, for the Ministry’s work in advancing the front-of-pack warning label in Mexico. Mexican consumers show unprecedented approval of the warning label. Civil society organizations in Mexico, as well as regional and international public health and public interest organizations, have also shown stalwart support for the warning label. Moreover, researchers and academics have generated robust scientific evidence demonstrating the effectiveness of the warning label in providing easy-to-understand information to consumers and positively influencing consumer purchases.
Despite the research and recommendations, the food and beverage industry has tried to derail the front-of-package warning label in Mexico throughout its development and implementation. Corporations seeking to remove or modify the existing warning label in Mexico have presented over 100 legal cases identified to date against it. Most recently, four of these cases (considered to be writs of unconstitutionality) have reached the Mexican Supreme Court. While the first of these cases, filed by a Mexican sugar-sweetened beverage company called Barrilitos, was scheduled to be voted on today in the Second Chamber of the Supreme Court, the Court postponed its discussion to a later date, to be announced, so the discussion and vote are pending.
November 16, 2022
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1 Organización Panamericana de la Salud/Organización Mundial de la Salud (OPS/OMS), Fondo de las Naciones Unidas para la Infancia (UNICEF). Un etiquetado nutrimental frontal claro y de fácil comprensión protege a niñas, niños y adolescentes en México, 2019.
2 Arrúa A, Machín L, Curutchet MR, Martínez J, Antúnez L, Alcaire F, et al. (2017). Warnings as a directive front-of pack nutrition labelling scheme: comparison with the Guideline Daily Amount and traffic-light systems. Public Health Nutr 2017; 20(13):2308-17.
3 Interference in public health policy: examples of how the baby food industry uses tobacco industry tactics. World Health Nutrition. https://worldnutritionjournal.org/index.php/wn/article/view/155)
4 Russ K, Baker P, Byrd M, et al. What you don’t know about the Codex can hurt you: how trade policy trumps global health governance in infant and young child nutrition. International Journal of Health Policy and Management 2021; 10(12): 983-97. Baker et al. Globalization and Health (2021) 17:58. Advocacy at Work During the Codex Committee on Food Labelling Meeting