Argentina Now Requires Big Food to Add Warning Labels to Ultra-Processed Foods
Big food companies in Argentina now need to add warning labels to their ultra-processed products.

Consumers in Argentina are getting help to identify unhealthy food, thanks to new food promotion laws that mandate front-of-package warning labels, the first phase of which started recently

Last year, Argentina’s president signed one of the world’s strongest and most comprehensive food policy laws, requiring ultra-processed products with excess levels of sodium, sugar, fats and calories to include black octagonal warnings on the front of the package. 

Big food companies were given until 20 August to add the warnings, while small and medium food and beverage companies have until 20 February 2023 to do so. 

Companies that produce products that are high in sugar, calories, sodium and fat are prohibited from advertising these to children or selling them at schools.

Argentinian civil society groups applauded the start of the new law, emphasizing it was a step in the right direction after years of advocacy. 

“This moment is the time when people in Argentina will start to have the chance to know what they are eating,” said Luciana Castronuovo of Fundacion InterAmerica del Corazon (FIC) Argentina, speaking to the Global Health Advocacy Incubator

The law is comprehensive as it also includes the regulation of food marketing and school environments, guaranteeing the rights to health and healthy food of children and youth, Victoria Tiscornia, nutritionist and researcher at FIC Argentina, told Health Policy Watch

“This comprehensive law is evidence-based and includes the best public health standards to tackle the double burden of malnutrition in Argentina.”

‘Major step’ to ensuring the right to healthy food

Argentina’s accomplishment comes at a time when advocates are pushing for healthy food policies across Latin America in response to high rates of diet-related diseases like diabetes, obesity and heart disease and an increase in the availability of ultra-processed food and drinks.

For the past five years, civil society organizations in Argentina fought for a package of policies that include front-of-package warning labels (FOPL), marketing restrictions and the removal of unhealthy food and drinks from schools. 

“This law is a major step towards guaranteeing both the population’s right to healthy food and the right to information.,” said Tiscornia. “It seeks to provide clear and truthful information to consumers about the products they buy so that they can make informed decisions and choose the healthiest consumption options.”

The new law in Argentina is based on the experiences of other countries in the region, such as Chile, Mexico, and Peru, which have also implemented FOPL in their packaging.  

Chile was the first country to implement front-of-package labelling in 2016. Research has shown favourable significant positive changes in food choices as a result of labelling. Some 68% of people changed their eating habits and 20% of industries reformulated their products to comply with the established profile and thus avoid warning seals on the packaging. 

In addition, the purchase of sugar-sweetened beverages showed a significant decrease of almost 24% since the implementation of labelling.

Other parts of the world have also been working towards changing food policy with highly processed foods. Nigeria recently introduced a new tax on sugar-sweetened beverages in June in an effort to curb the growing rates of obesity, diabetes, and other diet-related non-communicable diseases in the country.  

Challenges in implementation and communication in months to come 

Supermarket in Argentina with processed sugary food products.

However, the new law in Argentina includes an article that allows companies to request a time extension for including the front of package warning labels (FOPL), Tiscornia added. 

FIC Argentina and other civil society organizations have been monitoring this process and conducting information requests but no official response explaining the number and reason for extensions has been yet provided. 

“This situation, although legal, affects the transparency of the policy process and the proper implementation of the law.” she said

FIC Argentina and other civil society groups will be facing many challenges in the coming months in regards to the new law, such as implementation and communication to the public, said Maga Ailén Merlo Vijarra from Argentinian human rights nonprofit FUNDEPS.

“In the coming months we will be working on disseminating key information about the law and the need for this public health strategy and we will also focus on the human right to healthy food.”

Products that were manufactured and packaged before the law came into force are not required to add labels. Additionally, rice, dry noodles and legumes, as well as fresh fruits and vegetables and milk, amongst other unprocessed or minimally processed foods are exempted from the labels. Table sugar and salt, vegetable oils, dried fruits and nuts, will also be exempted from labelling.

Vijarra noted that the challenges with implementation include understanding which products have labels and which companies will have extensions approved.

“In the coming months we expect to better protect Argentinean children and adolescents from abusive marketing strategies employed by the food industry, leading to a safer and healthier environment to develop and grow,” she concluded.

Image Credits: Global Health Policy Incubator , Vera and Jean-Christophe/Flickr .

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