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Junk food Law: Colombia implements front labeling warning

Known popularly as the “junk food law,” the law mandates front labeling to ultra-processed edible and drinkable products, accepting the suggestions of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) to fight against obesity.


Junk food is the form as foods and drinks are popularly called, which mostly have little or no natural food content, have high-calorie content, and low nutritional levels (such as potato chips, breakfast-sugary cereals, and soft drinks, among others).


The goal of the new law is to mandate measures to promote healthy nutritional environments, guaranteeing access to clear, verifiable, opportune, visible, suitable, and enough information over ultra-processed edible and drinkable products offered in Colombia, especially for children and youngsters, to prevent the onset of diseases that may impact the community.


The main change that the law introduces is for producers and importers of these products to place a warning label on their packages and containers indicating clear and truthful information if they have excess sodium, sugar, saturated fats, trans fats, or artificial sweeteners. These labels should be rule-based by the Ministry of Health and Social Protection, according to the best available “scientific evidence without conflict of interests,” leading to implementing placement of octagonal labels as the ones used in Chile, Peru, and Mexico. As a government agency, the Ministry has a maximum term of 1 year as of the start of the law to rule the provisions over front warning labeling.
 

Read more: Nutritional labeling needs to have responsible production (in Spanish)
 

What does “scientific evidence should not have a conflict of interests” mean and why is it so important?


It means that the scientific evidence needs to be the result of research or rigorous, serious, and motivated by the purpose of contributing to making the best decisions for the benefit of public health without any influence if interests, funding, or pressures from individuals or from manufacturing, import, sale, or distributor of food ultra-processing companies looking to benefit directly or indirectly from the results of the research.


How to know if a product requires labeling?


A product requires labeling if its critical nutrients such as sugar, sodium, trans fats, or sweeteners are above the maximum values established by the Ministry of Health, according to the greatest scientific evidence free of conflicts of interest, of the WHO and the PAHO.
 

What products should not have warning labels?


By no means, real food such as fruits and vegetables in all its varieties, typical or artisanal drinks such as masato, chicha, guarapo, natural fruit juices, traditional foods such ajiaco, sancocho, bandeja paisa, mute, cuy, patacón, arepa de huevo, panela, arepas, envueltos de maíz, cheese or fresh milk.

What else does the law say?


The junk food law also mandates the Communications Regulation Commission to authorize institutional open TV ads and for the Colombian National Radio Television (RTVC, for its Spanish acronym) to show ads in primetime to advertise the material carried out by the Ministry of Health destined to promote a healthy lifestyle, and also mandates the Ministry of Health as well as the Ministry of Labor –in coordination with the healthcare providing institutions, family compensation funds, occupational risk administrators, and other responsible actors to implement healthy labor private, and public environments to achieve a process of continued improvement to protect and promote good health, security, and welfare for all workers, besides sustainability in the work environment.
 

Listen: In Bogotá, processed meats, candy, and finger foods, among the most health-damaging
 

Public entities or company cafeterias should offer healthy foods such as fruits.


Although since 2009 Law 155 that acknowledged obesity as a chronic disease and of public interest has been in force in Colombia and has been great progress for the country at the time, we still need more commitment from the government and society to face the healthcare and nutritional issues of the community, as the country, has not been able to reduce the overweight and obesity issues, and on the contrary, they are on the rise.
 

According to the Colombian Nutritional Situation Survey (ENSIN, for its Spanish acronym) (ICBF et. al., 2015), between 2010 and 2015, overweight in adults passed from 51.2% to 56.4%, and in children between 5 and 12 years old from 18.8% to 24.4%, that is a 5.6% increase, showing constant and significant growth. These conditions favor the appearance of more serious diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and some types of cancer. Therefore, it is necessary to reinforce the public policy prevention measures, and precisely that is the spirit of law 2120 of 2021.

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