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In Argentina, a new labeling system to fight against junk food

LETTER FROM BUENOS AIRES

A supermarket in Buenos Aires, in August 2019.

It’s a black and white octagonal emblem, large enough to immediately catch the eye. “Excess sodium”, “excess calories”, “excess sugar” : succinct, the messages, affixed to the front of the packaging, make it possible to identify at a glance the nutritional defects of industrial products. Soon, the face of the overwhelming majority of items sold in supermarkets will change in Argentina with the so-called healthy eating promotion law, enacted in November 2021 and whose implementing decrees were issued on Wednesday March 23. This is, for civil society associations and international organizations calling for this change, a major step forward in terms of public health.

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However, the legislative path of the text has been strewn with pitfalls. Approved in October 2020 by the Senate, the law then withered in the Lower House. At the beginning of October 2021, a new stumble: for lack of sufficient deputies in the Hemicycle, the law cannot be debated. “The business lobby focused on the food industry has won a battle again”, reacted then the Union of the workers of the ground (UTT), organization of small producers and peasants. In a long investigation, dating from May 2021, the news site Eldiario.ar thus reveals the shenanigans of the food industry to try to curb or modify the law. At the same time, civil society is also putting pressure: on Twitter, the hashtag “Lobby excess” is flourishing, in order to demand the parliamentary treatment of the text, finally carried out and approved at the end of October 2021.

Number one in the world for the consumption of sodas

According to the government, this law “empowers people in the choice of food products”. In addition, it provides for a food education component at school “to contribute to the development of healthy eating habits and prevent the possible harmful effects of an unhealthy diet”. “When we see that the supermarket trolley has 80% of its products with a logo, we will become aware of the junk food we eat. And we will see it on many foods that people do not perceive as bad: yogurt, certain juices, cakes made from oats and cereals; products considered good for health”urge Mara Garcia, member of the Argentine Federation of Nutrition Graduates, interviewed by the newspaper Page 12.

Argentina’s health indicators are alarming. According to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO, dependent on the UN), Argentina has one of the highest figures in the region, and increasing, in terms of overweight and obesity, which concern four children and adolescents out of ten – and seven out of ten adults. The three factors most associated with mortality in the country, according to the organization: hypertension, hyperglycemia, overweight and obesity. “In recent years, the way of eating has changed: homemade dishes prepared with fresh foods (…) have given way to processed or highly processed products that have an excess of critical nutrients such as added sugars, saturated fats and sodium”remarks the OPS.

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