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Good News for food labelling in Mexico!

Have you noticed the new warning labels on snacks and processed foods in Mexico? Here´s the explanation:

In October 2019, Congress approved an amendment to add warning labels on the front of all processed foods and non-alcoholic beverages. The decision was made after years of pressure by public health experts, nutritionists, doctors, and scientists concerned with the number of unhealthy food children and adults consume on a daily basis. The average daily retail sales of these products showed that the Mexican population consumes up to 522 calories per person per day of ultra-processed foods and consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages contributes to 21.7% of total caloric intake. As a result, in 2016 Mexico declared an epidemiological emergency due to the high rates of obesity and dietary-related diseases. According to the Mexican National Health and Nutrition Survey in 2018, over 75% of adults and over 35% of children aged 5-11 were obese or overweight. In 2012 Baja California Sur had the highest rate in the country of abdominal obesity in adults, according to ENSANUT (National health and nutrition survey). Obesity is not the only non-communicable disease attributed to poor diet choices. Cavities, diabetes, and heart disease are also an important public health crisis related to poor diet choices.

Studies have shown that the general nutrition information currently on the back of boxes does not discourage the consumption of unhealthy foods because consumers cannot easily identify unhealthy products. Warning labels on the front of packages allow consumers to quickly identify healthy and unhealthy products. These labels can help people make healthier decisions, and the country can combat growing rates of obesity and diet-related diseases. This measure will also help health providers to easily recommend diet choices to patients at risk of developing diet-related diseases and to those already struggling with a condition by advising them to avoid products with warning labels.

The new labels are all based on 100-gram servings and are clear to understand. For example, products labeled “Excess sugar” and “Excess saturated fat” contain 10% or more sugar or saturated fat of the total calories. “Excess calories” is applied to foods with 275 calories or more for 100g beverages. The label “Excess sodium,” means 1mg or more of sodium per calorie or 300g or more of sodium in beverages and packaged foods. These rules are based on the Pan American Health Organization´s dietary guidelines.

In addition, warning labels for products that include caffeine must say in capital letters “CONTIENE CAFEÍNA EVITAR EN NIÑOS '' (Contains caffeine, avoid in children). Products that contain sweeteners must include the warning label “CONTIENE EDULCORANTES -NO RECOMENDABLE EN NIÑOS” (Contains sweeteners -not recommended for children.) The new food labeling laws are going into effect in three phases. After the initial phase, starting April 21, 2021 products with one or more warning signs should not include any marketing images toward children. This includes cartoons, graphics, pictures of celebrities or athletes, toys or interactive elements, or digital downloads.

This is great news for the health of the public. However, it will be interesting to see how well COFEPRIS (the Mexican FDA) enforces these new laws. The food and agriculture industry is still fighting back against the labels, arguing that it will be extremely damaging to the industry. However, there is much optimism considering the sale of sugary beverages fell by almost 1/4 since the implementation of warning labels in Chile in 2016. If Mexico is successful in implementing this public health campaign, it could have a strategic influence over the entire region, considering that it is the most populated country in Latin America after Brazil. Great news for consumers and public health.

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