History not to repeat: in Uruguay the industry managed to accommodate the labeling in its favor

Through a regulatory decree, Uruguay modified the criteria established for the application of warning stamps on food products. With the new resolution, the limits to critical nutrients were relaxed and companies will be able to sell their products with high levels of sodium, sugar and fat, without being reached by the regulations.

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By 2018, Uruguay became the third country in the Americas to adopt the frontal labeling system for food warnings. This public health measure, widely celebrated by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), was intended to be part of the response to malnutrition that affects 34% of Uruguayan children of school age. For its part, Decree 272/2018, within its clauses, granted companies an adaptation period of 18 months, enough time for the food industry to accommodate the political scenario in its favor. Thus, the entry into force and inspection of the measure was only set for March 1, 2020.

However, when the time came, the implementation of Decree 272 was not a priority. After many twists and turns, the government approved another decree (246/020) which not only extended the effective date of mandatory labeling to February 2021, but also established important variations to the original rule.

In Uruguay, the strategies used by the industry were the same as those used in other countries where front labeling was also discussed (Peru, Chile, Mexico and currently Argentina). The dilation of times, the sponsorship of specialists for the dissemination of biased research, as well as the denial and proposal of alternatives without scientific basis, are part of their best-known tactics that seek to protect only their economic interests.

Thus, far from being the Ministry of Public Health the one that proposed and announced modifications based on scientific evidence free of conflict of interest, the one in charge of doing so was the Ministry of Industry, Energy and Mining. Hence, it is not surprising to observe that the changes made by the government have revolved around the PAHO nutrient profile system, giving rise to a more flexible and friendly regulation with the food industry, and in evident damage to public health .

In this way, food companies in Uruguay today have the possibility of selling as stamp-free products those that contain 20% more sodium (from 400 to 500mg), 30% more sugars (from 10 to 13g) , 45% more saturated fat (9 to 13g) and 50% more total fat (4 to 6g), in portions of 100 grams or 100 milliliters.

For this reason, according to a statement from the Civil Society Alliance for the control of Non-Communicable Diseases, “the main products benefiting from this flexibility will be those with excess sugars and fats, in particular dairy products and desserts. , which are often advertised as healthy and with which the Food Industry carries out an aggressive marketing strategy, aimed at boys and girls. This (vulnerable) population will be the main recipient of these changes, given that many of these products will no longer have the label despite continuing to be just as harmful to their health ”.

In a critical context of the increase in Noncommunicable Diseases, the complicity of the Uruguayan government with the interests of the industry is not understood. According to PAHO statistics, Uruguay is among the Latin American countries that registered the highest increase in the consumption of ultra-processed products between 2000 and 2013, translating into an increase of 146%.

Given that the consumption of these products with excesses, are the main contributors to the generation of these diseases, it becomes necessary the existence and application of public policies that effectively protect the right to health of the population, especially those groups in a situation vulnerability, as are children and adolescents. Likewise, the importance of ensuring that public health policy-making processes are free of conflict of interest and industry interference is highlighted. Well, these must be based on the best available scientific evidence and not on the economic interests of a particular sector.

From Fundeps and SANAR, we join the claims of Civil Society Organizations that require the Uruguayan government to implement a frontal food labeling that protects and guarantees the right of access to information by consumers, as well as the right to health of Uruguayans.