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Nutritional labelling: advances and challenges from the perspective of civil society

Nutritional labelling: advances and challenges from the perspective of civil society

For World Obesity Day 2022, the Brazilian Obesity Panel convened obesity experts and organizations to share their experiences in preventing and controlling obesity in Brazil. This is one of their stories.

Since 2016, I have been working in Idec's Healthy and Sustainable Food Program, focused on preventing obesity and NCDs. Through lawsuits, research and communication, we advocate for regulatory measures such as banning children's advertising and improving food labelling.

What was the objective of the project?

We were aware of inconsistencies, regulatory failures and difficulty in understanding nutrition labelling for foods in Brazil. The Brazilian model does not allow consumers to adopt healthier food choices. Our objective was to secure the approval of the new nutrition labelling standard for packaged foods to improve consumer understanding and food choices.

Research and analysis of international examples showed that such approval should include specific standards. The front label should be a warning based on the PAHO nutritional profile, indicating high content of total and saturated fat, sodium and sugar, and the presence of sweeteners and trans fat. This information should be placed at the top of the label and other front labelling, claims, or children's advertising should not be included. The nutrition table should be applied on a white background with black lettering to ensure legibility, include mandatory information on total and added sugars, and show nutrition information based on 100g/mL. The implementation timeframe should be as short as possible to ensure clear and adequate food information for the consumer.

What was the methodology used?

Idec participated in the entire labelling regulatory process. Between 2014 and 2016, there were technical meetings of the Brazilian Health Regulatory Agency’s (Anvisa's) WG, to identify the regulatory problems and possible solutions. In 2017, Anvisa received proposals for improving nutrition labelling from various stakeholders, including Idec, which were based on international research and experiences.

In 2018 and 2019, with the opening of the TPS and the CP, Idec sent technical contributions. Throughout the process, Idec participated in technical meetings with Anvisa directors and mobilized partner organizations, in addition to dealing with industry interference. Since 2017, Idec has produced communication campaigns and street actions to raise consumer awareness and pressure Anvisa to act. At the end of the process, because of the delays, Idec filed a lawsuit demanding that Anvisa make a decision. We also participated in international discussions within Codex Alimentarius and MERCOSUR.

What were the results?

The approval of the new food nutrition labelling standard with a "high in" front model. One of our victories was the approval of a front labelling template for high saturated fat, sodium and added sugar content, in black and white, to be included at the top of the label of products with added critical nutrients, which may not use other types of front labelling or claims about the same nutrients. Other achievements were setting nutritional information per 100g/mL, introducing mandatory information on total and added sugar, and standardizing the nutrition table design.

Some challenges remain, such as improving the nutritional profile, improving the front model based on current scientific evidence, and restricting claims about other nutrients and advertising for children. With this in mind, Idec published the web page "An eye on labels" and continues to monitor the process of implementing the standards.

How have these results impacted the lives of people with obesity?

Although the new nutrition labelling standard was approved in October 2020, its implementation will only begin in October 2022, extending, in some cases, for another 3 years. Thus, we do not yet have concrete indicators of its results. However, according to impact and modelling studies of the implementation of standards in Latin American countries, and of the understanding, use and purchase intention of front labelling in Brazil, it is expected that the changes in the labelling standards - especially the front label - will generate better visualization and greater understanding of the information and, consequently, greater use and change in purchase intention. The improvement of nutritional labelling ensures the right to information for the consumer, who will be more aware of what they consume and make healthier food choices. In the long term, there should be an improvement in health conditions, such as a decrease in cases of obesity and NCDs.

By Laís Amaral Mais.

Find out more about the Brazilian Institute for Consumer Defense (Idec)

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