In NAFTA Talks, U.S. Tries to Limit Junk Food Warning Labels

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Source: OECD Obesity Update 2017

Urged on by big American food and soft-drink companies, reports the New York Times,  the Trump administration is using the trade talks with Mexico and Canada to try to limit the ability of the pact’s three members — including the United States — to warn consumers about the dangers of junk food, according to confidential documents outlining the American position.

The Mexican government support for such restrictions “is one of the most invasive forms of industrial interference we have seen,” Alejandro Calvillo, the founder of El Poder del Consumidor, or Consumer Power, a health advocacy group in Mexico told the New York Times. Heading off pressure for more explicit warnings through the NAFTA negotiation is especially appealing to the food and beverage industry, writes the Times, because it could help limit domestic regulation in the United States as well as avert a broad global move to adopt mandatory health-labeling standards.  “It kind of kills a law before it can be written,” said Lora Verheecke, a researcher at the Corporate Europe Observatory, a group that tracks lobbying efforts. “And once you put it in one trade agreement, it can become the precedent for all future deals with future countries.”

Sustain, an alliance of advocates in the United Kingdom working for better food and agriculture policies and practices, summarizes some of the ‘”barriers to trade” that a 2017 report by the  US Office of the Trade Representative identified:

  • Additional nutritional labelling such as traffic light labels in the UK and Ireland. The US is arguing that these initiatives must remain voluntary.
  • South Africa’s plans to introduce a sugary drinks tax in 2016. The US raised concerns that the tax would effectively discriminate against sugary drinks. The move jeopardizes $5m of US sugary beverage exports
  • Proposals by six Gulf states to regulate energy drinks, including introducing labelling statements about recommended consumption. (One estimate puts this market at $2bn.)
  • Efforts by Chile to clearly label products high in sugar, salt and saturated fat and restrict junk food marketing on packaging to children. The US has referred the Chileans to the WTO saying delays and repackaging has cost the US firms ‘millions of dollars’ in lost sales
  • A food act in Peru introducing mandatory front of pack warnings for pre-packaged foods high in sugar, salt and fat and restrictions on junk food advertising to children and young people
  • Indonesia’s attempts to introduce nutritional labelling for pre-packaged and fast food along with and regulations to limit advertising and health claims aimed at children.