In the past months great progress has been made in the Region of the Americas in the implementation of front-of-package labeling systems aimed at warning the population against excess sodium, sugar, and/or fat content in processed and highly processed food products. PAHO provides technical support to help Member States advance with this measure as part of a set of policies to prevent obesity and other forms of malnutrition, thus helping to reduce the impact of noncommunicable diseases.

 

On 16 June this year, Peru published an official manual on warning labels, based on evidence and experiences in the Region. The manual requires the implementation of a front-of-package labeling system that alert consumers to excessive sugar, saturated fat, and sodium content, and/or the presence of trans fats in processed and highly processed products. The publication of the manual concludes a long and exhaustive process led by the Ministry of Health, during which evidence was collected, consultations were held with different actors, and regulations were drafted. The manual was developed in the framework of Law 30021 on the promotion of a healthy diet for children and adolescents (2013).

Canada and Brazil are heading in the same direction, having decided on a similar approach: a system in which the main display side indicates to the consumer whether a product is "HIGH" in sugar, sodium, and/or fats. Both countries are also following an evidence-based process and have submitted the proposal to public consultation, ensuring broad, democratic debate. Canada concluded consultations at the end of April and is now collecting contributions, while Brazil is currently holding consultations, which were scheduled to end on 9 July this year.

Pioneers in the application and production of evidence on front-of-package labeling in the Americas

In 2014, Ecuador became the first country in the Region to establish a labeling system offering summarized information. Bolivia passed a law adopting a similar system in 2016 and, that same year, Chile launched an innovative, evidence-based system that required front-of-package icons directly informing consumers whether a product contains excessive amounts of sugar, total fats, calories, and/or sodium.

Uruguay produced further evidence to inform decision-making, showing that nutritional warning systems attract attention, are more understandable, are more useful and relevant for consumer decision-making, and prevent misleading claims and distorted perceptions of products.

Based on this evidence and on the results of implementing the Chilean system (which proved effective in improving consumers' decisions about their purchases), in 2017 Uruguay prepared and submitted to public consultation a draft presidential decree that includes the use of front-of-package warnings for products that exceed PAHO/WHO-recommended sugar, sodium, and/or fat limits.

Advances in subregional integration mechanisms

Integration mechanisms have also improved. In 2017, the Meeting of Ministers of Health of Central America endorsed a proposed resolution to establish a front-of-package system for nutritional warnings. Since then, PAHO has also facilitated cooperation between the Caribbean Community and Chile to advance with this measure.

The latest advance was on 15 June 2018, when the Ministers of Health of MERCOSUR, considering the serious situation in their countries, the evidence and experience in the Region, and the urgent need for progress, agreed on a set of principles to promote compulsory front-of-package labeling systems that quickly and easily indicate excessive sugar, sodium, and/or fat content (based on PAHO/WHO recommendations), without creating the mistaken perception that a food with excessive amounts of a critical nutrient is a healthy food.

Overall, the evidence and experiences in the Americas show that the best performance is achieved with detailed, text-based nutritional warnings with contrasting letters, located on the display side of the package, visible to the consumer, preferably near the top, separated from other elements of the label on a white background, offering clear, accurate, simple, and brief information about processed and highly processed products that contain excessive amounts of sugar, fats, and/or sodium.