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Regional Front of Package Labeling

Regional Front of Package Labeling
January 25
17:49 2019 - News Staff - Jan. 25th. - 

Businesses that manufacture or distribute pre-packaged foods may soon have to change the information displayed on their products’ labels, as a proposed regional standard that is currently being debated draws closer to the potential implementation date in late 2019.

The draft standards, as promulgated by the CARICOM Regional Organization for Standards and Quality (CROSQ), is designed to help “increase the consumer’s understand of the nutritional value of their food and to assist in interpreting the nutrient declaration.” The CROSQ draft adds, “Front-of-package nutritional warning labels that interpret nutritional information add ease and speed to information access, improving the consumer’s ability to make a critical and better-informed decision.”

The new regional standard, once implemented, shall apply to “all manufacturers, importers, distributors and other entities engaged in the production and or trade of pre-packaged food within any Member State of the Community.” It is for this reason that the private sector throughout the CARICOM region has been engaged in ongoing discussions and consultations regarding the proposed standards. Belize is no exception, as on Friday, January 25, local businesses and the Belize Bureau of Standards (BBS) shall commence the discussion on the same, especially as it pertains to the anticipated impacts that this regional standard could have on the cost of doing business in Belize.

Generally speaking, the feedback from businesses throughout the region ostensibly carries similar themes that indicate that, while the private sector supports the health-oriented objectives governing the standards, there are legitimate concerns as it pertains to the cost of doing business in an environment that is otherwise beset by other constraints.

Essentially, the proposed regulations demand that businesses add to existing labels octagonal warning messages that indicate simply if a particular pre-packaged food is “high” in sugars, saturated fat, sodium, or fat. The designation of “high” or “low” is based on the threshold established by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).

Thus far, businesses or associations located in CARICOM member states shared that existing labeling standards and thresholds (such as the United Kingdom (UK) thresholds) already provide nutritional information that could assist consumers in making healthy choices, even for “natural foods” such as almonds for which the CROSQ version would not necessarily cover.

Aside from the debate over which approach and threshold limits are more “realistic” or “sound,” the business community has sounded the alarm regarding the costs to be incurred by importers who would have to repackage or “re-label” the goods that are purchased from extra-CARICOM jurisdictions such as the United States or the UK who do not need to apply the CARICOM regulations. Among these costs is the risk of demurrage at ports, and delays in getting the product to the shelves due to “stickering” obligations.

Last year, the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI)’s Trinidadian counterpart had shared their concerns; more recently, the legal team of a Jamaican company has done the same; and, of course, local businesses have expressed similar sense of disquiet. Interestingly, the feedback—irrespective of location in the Caribbean—appears consistent. On the one hand, the private sector fully supports the intended purpose of the pending regulation, but on the other hand remains unconvinced that proposed standard’s current draft is the most efficient method. Once again, it will be interesting to see where the regional private- and public sectors can arrive at practical common grounds.

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