Although the measures being applied to tobacco products have not been extended to the food sector, it is important to recognise that such calls are increasingly being made by NGOs, governments and international organisations. One example is the call for a warning on sugar-based products, which is supported by the World Health Organisation.
In the US, a number of initiatives at the state- and city-level have been established. Notably, San Francisco adopted legislation in June 2015 requiring advertisements for sugar-sweetened beverages to state: ‘WARNING: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes and tooth decay. This is a message from the City and County of San Francisco.’
The oils and fats industry must prepare for this type of regulatory constraints to develop vis-à-vis food products and beverages. Some retailers in France and Belgium have implemented use of the ‘No palm oil’ label, even though EU legislation already requires vegetable oils to be specifically named in the list of ingredients on food product packaging.
Such practices are misleading and arguable violations of EU law, which unfairly target certain competing products (like palm oil) and not particular substances (saturated fats) that are contained in all vegetable and animals fats used in the food industry.
For the most part, these anti-competitive industry practices are tolerated by governments, but the risk is that they may soon become, in differing forms and scopes, part of mandatory schemes imposed under specific regulations pursuing health protection objectives.
Mindful of the concerted attacks being waged against products like palm oil, coconut oil and palm kernel oil, producer countries must play an active role in monitoring policies and labelling schemes imposed by trading partners. This is to prevent decisions from being conceived and implemented in a manner that is disproportionate, distortive and discriminatory.
Any measure that demonises specific products or uses over-simplified slogans or labels to discourage consumption of certain substances should be resisted. The systemic interest at stake is too great to let these regulatory schemes develop unrestrained by the applicable WTO law.
Health Warnings on Food Products was last modified: September 30th, 2016 by GOFB