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Labeling of Processed food and Beverages with excessive nutrients that may be harmful to health 

Carlos Flores Presa,  July 2, 2024

Arias - According to the Pan American Health Organization ("PAHO") of the World Health Organization ("WHO"), excessive consumption of certain ingredients such as sugar, fats, and sodium is a public health problem associated with chronic diseases affecting the population. This is due to the wide availability of processed and ultra-processed food products in the market, as well as the promotion of these products, and consumer misinformation about them. "PAHO" suggests including the implementation of tools that enable the population to be informed about the products they are consuming and their effects on health. One of these tools is the use of simple and practical labeling that provides consumers with information about the products and helps guide their purchasing decisions.

At the regional level, it should be noted that through the Protocol to the General Treaty of Central American Economic Integration (known as the "Guatemala Protocol"), the Council of Ministers of Central American Economic Integration ("COMIECO") was created, which is made up of the Minister delegated of each Member State1. COMIECO is responsible for economic integration issues and aims to coordinate, harmonize, converge, or unify the economic public policies of the countries2, which have materialized through resolutions, regulations, agreements, and recommendations. In Central America and Panama, Technical Committees for Standardization and Technical Regulation exist, composed of government authorities, academic sectors, and the private sector of each country, who are responsible for studying, analyzing and creating Central American Technical Regulations (RTCAs).

Currently, there are RTCAs3 approved and issued by COMIECO which regulates the general labeling of pre-packaged foods and the nutritional labeling of pre-packaged food products for human consumption, both of which are mandatory for participating states4. These regulations were created to regulate the labeling of food products, preventing from containing false or misleading information that could mislead consumers about the nature of the products, in harmony with the protection provided by the State to consumers through consumer protection laws applicable for Guatemala, thus avoiding a risk to health.

The general labeling RTCA establishes the requirements that must be met by food product labels, on the other hand the nutritional labeling RTCA establishes the minimum requirements that must be met by the labels of foods that contain nutritional information, nutrient claims or health claims, both for pre-packaged and processed products. The term food5 also includes beverages. The control, surveillance, and monitoring of compliance with these regulations is the responsibility of the Ministry of Public Health through the Department of Food Regulation and Control.

In Guatemala, in order to manufacture, import, distribute and commercialize processed food products, it is necessary to obtain prior authorizations granted by the Ministry of Public Health, as well as to have the sanitary registration of said products and the sanitary license of the factory or distributor. It is important for individuals and companies that produce and/or import processed food products for commercialization in Guatemala to observe and comply with the applicable regulations for the labeling of their products. For the granting of the sanitary registration and the commercialization of the products, it is necessary for the labeling to be approved beforehand by the Ministry of Public Health. It must also be considered that the Ministry, through the corresponding units, carries out constant inspections and monitoring of the products that are marketed to verify compliance with labeling requirements.

For alcoholic beverages, it is mandatory for the label to include the statement: "Excessive consumption of this product is harmful to the consumer’s health", in accordance with the provisions of the Health Code. This statement must be written in Spanish using Arial Black font in capital letters and a minimum font size of twelve; and it must occupy at least twenty-five percent of the label’s front surface as well as indicating its ingredients.

Non-compliance with labeling regulations and provisions will be subject to health sanctions imposed by the Ministry of Health in accordance with the Health Code, which may include fines equal to two minimum monthly wages up to one hundred and fifty minimum monthly wages for non-agricultural activities, not exceeding one hundred percent of the value of the product. In case suggestions and corrections are not adopted, it can also result in the cancellation of the product’s sanitary registration.

Nutritional warning on front labeling of food

Due to the increase in chronic diseases related to food in the Centro American region, such as obesity, hypertension, high cholesterol, and diabetes, which are estimated to cause over sixty percent of deaths in Central America according to the Institute of Nutrition of Central America and Panama (INCAP), proposals have been created for front labeling of nutritional warning of food, so that it is clear, truthful and easy to understand for consumers, both children and adults, which allows them to have more information about the product they are consuming and make the best decision about its consumption.

The INCAP proposed a new RTCA to the Secretariat for Central American Economic Integration (SIECA) of food and beverage labeling regulations. The proposal includes the implementation of front-of-package warnings for excessive levels of ingredients, such as sugar, fats, and sodium, which according to the WHO, are major contributors to chronic diseases in people. This measure has already been implemented in some countries in the region, such as Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, among others.

The proposal for the new regulation of labeling of food and beverage products by INCAP exemplifies the descriptor symbols for warnings on the excess of mentioned nutrients that would be included in the front labels of the products, as demonstrated below:

That is, all food products containing sodium, sugar, or fats in higher percentages in accordance with those established by the RTCA must place on the front labeling of the products, the warning corresponding to the ingredient, so that consumers can easily identify products that contain high levels of these nutrients, according to the example above.

It is important to highlight that in some countries where these requirements for food product labeling have already been implemented as well as in some countries where mandatory implementation is being discussed, certain sectors of commerce and production industry have argued the negative impact it could have on the economy and society in commercial terms, resulting in job and wage losses due to considerable increase in costs for manufacturing, labeling, and logistics. Among the arguments used are violations of international trade commitments, such as those related to the World Trade Organization (WTO) contravening provisions of the Codex Alimentarius, among others.

For Guatemala and Central America, there is still uncertainty of the date on which any regulation that establishes the obligation to use these tools in the front labeling of food products enter into force. However, in Guatemala, the initiative 5504 "Law for Promotion of Healthy eating" is being discussed in the Congress of the Republic, which regulates, among other things, to implement nutritional warning label on the front of pre-packed and processed food products that contain excess nutrients. Currently, initiative 5504 has been approved in the second debate and is on the legislative agenda to be discussed and approved in the third debate, without clarity on the date when this will happen.

Therefore, it is important and necessary to establish technical committees with the different sectors of health, commerce, and production industry to implement and develop a regional regulatory project that is beneficial for the health of the population and affects national economies as little as possible. Currently, in Guatemala the proposed RTCA project by INCAP has not made progress.

Arias’ team is composed of professionals with extensive experience in regulatory health and advice who can gladly assist you with proper planning and legal analysis to determine the obligations, provisions, and authorizations that correspond to the respective authorities.


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