Argentina Congress Debates Food Labeling Bill with INTA Input

Published: March 24, 2021

The Congress of Argentina is expected to soon resume deliberations on a bill requiring new warning labels on packaging and restricting advertising on some food products. INTA commented in the government’s consultation process on the need for good data related to restricted products and is monitoring the developments.

The General Legislative Commission of the Congress of Argentina held a public consultation about the bill on February 19, 2021. The proposed bill follows laws adopted in Chile, Mexico, Uruguay, and other Latin American countries. Under Argentina’s proposed law, processed food must follow new warning standards if it falls within the “high in” category, affixing black octagon-shaped seals to the front of packages of products containing excess sugars, sodium, saturated and total fats, and quantity of calories. But the bill also has important restrictions on the times, places, and public to which the products may be advertised, and even sold.

The bill is based on World Health Organization (WHO) and Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) recommendations to reduce childhood obesity, and includes banning the use of fictional characters (possibly figurative marks) in the list of examples of advertisements that would be banned if the product is “high in” sugars, sodium, fats, or calories, and is aimed at children.

A plenary of committees of the Chamber of Deputies (the lower house of Congress) will resume deliberation on the bill at some point.

INTA’s Intervention

INTA shared the results of its study, Trademarks in Latin America—Economic Impact in 10 Latin America and Caribbean Countries, specifically the positive impact of trademark-intensive industries in Argentina. The Association presented its position on brand restrictions, mainly its conclusion reflected in its 2019 Board Resolution, which stressed the need to collect strong and sufficient data that links the restriction, particularly brand restriction, with the reduction of consumption of the so-called “unhealthy product” so that it achieves the public health goal.

INTA also stated that octagons, or any other seals containing disclaimers such as “high in,” would not necessarily meet the clear, truthful, and sufficient information criteria, particularly taking into consideration who the consumers are, as children are not necessarily cognizant of the implications or even the exact meaning of those labels.

In addition, INTA shared negative results from restricting brands, as the experience showed more consumption of restricted products in some countries, as well as increases in counterfeit and illicit trade. The Association concluded by showing that brand restrictions bring more negative impacts than the positive goal they are intended to achieve, and in the process diminish intellectual property rights as well as fundamental rights of consumer choice.

Congress began discussion of the bill in November 2020, followed by a public hearing convened by the president of the General Legislation Commission, Cecilia Moreau (Front of All), together with her social action and public health party peers, Pablo Yedlin (FdT), Diego Mestre of Consumer Defense (Together for Change), and Alejandro Garcia of Industry (JxC). Various stakeholders presented comments, most of them supporting the bill, while others suggested nuances to consider so the bill does not address all foods and industries.

United Nations nutrition specialists and representatives of food industries explained the objectives and rationale of the WHO and PAHO recommendations reflected in the bill. They said the provisions are intended to provide consumers with clear, truthful, and sufficient information about the quality of the product, in this case those deemed to be “high in” one or more ingredients. This would allow consumers to have better information to make healthier choices and eventually reduce obesity, malnutrition, and chronic noncommunicable diseases, they explained.

The initiative is aimed at manufacturers, wholesalers, and packers who distribute, market, or import, or who have branded or integrated into the food and non-alcoholic beverage marketing chain (not exceeding a volumetric alcoholic strength of 1.2 percent) throughout the Argentinian territory.

Speakers who convened to comment on the bill included the president of the Dairy Industry Center, Ercole Felippa; the director of the Argentine Federation of Nutrition Graduates (FAGRAN), Andrea Graciano; and the co-founder of Collective Conscious (a socio-environmental youth organization), Mikhail Kaufman Falchuk.

Other speakers included UN Food Safety and Nutrition Project Manager Elizabeth Kleiman; the national consultant on chronic noncommunicable diseases of the PAHO, Sebastián Laspiur; and INTA’s Chief Representative–Office for Latin America and the Caribbean, José Luis Londoño.

The guest list also included the food director of Tucumán’s Ministry of Productive Development, Gabriela Marcello; the president of the National Federation of Fruit Market Operators, Carlos Otrino; Salud Natural Argentina Executive Director Ignacio Porras; the head of the Argentine Association of Food Technologists, Susana Socolovsky; and the Argentine Carnic Industry Union’s Mabel Vucko.

Most of the consumer associations supported the bill and stated that it was meant to safeguard the population of 45 million Argentinians from unhealthy and “poisoned” processed food, whose industry they said has historically “deceived” consumers by not providing information about the actual components of the products.

Meanwhile, the nutrition experts from the UN agencies explained that the use of octagons corresponds to a best practice for providing clear and sufficient information to the relevant consumers of these type of products, particularly children.

INTA’s Latin America and the Caribbean Representative Office, based in Santiago, Chile, represents the Association’s members across the region. Working in collaboration with staff at INTA’s headquarters in New York City, the Latin America and the Caribbean Representative Office leads the Association’s policy, membership, marketing, and communications initiatives throughout this region. To learn more about INTA’s activities in Latin America and the Caribbean, please contact INTA Chief Representative Officer of the Latin America and the Caribbean Office José Luis Londoño.

Although every effort has been made to verify the accuracy of this article, readers are urged to check independently on matters of specific concern or interest. 

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