Bureau of Standards, Ministry of Health, and the private sector discuss warning labels on food

Bureau of Standards, Ministry of Health, and the private sector discuss warning labels on food

If you purchase a pack of cookies or chips from companies in the region, chances are you will see a warning label on it. It’s to tell consumers what’s in it and whether it can be harmful to their health. Several countries, including Mexico, have already implemented this as a standard and have the legislation to support it. Belize is now going in that direction and discussions continued today with the Bureau of Standards, the Ministry of Health and Wellness, and various stakeholders in the private sector. At the launch, Samantha Banner, the acting director of the bureau explained why this discussion is important. 

Samantha Banner, Ag. Director, Belize Bureau of Standards: “We’re hosting a national consultation on the front of package warning label. Belize has to make a position and submit a national position to CARICOM in regards to our position as it relates to the use of a front of package health warning label system as a part of the CARICOM initiative and so we find it fitting that we consult with the relevant stakeholders to ensure that this is something from a national perspective that we want to achieve for our country. It’s primarily on food products because the front of package warning label like you mentioned is already on a lot of food products so it’s an octagonal shaped system where it identifies high fat, high sodium and so that consumers can be conscious of these from a health perspective. And so therefore it’s for us to make a decision whether that system or that octagonal system or the red light green light system that is being proposed by other entities within the Caribbean is the best system.”

Dr. Jorge Polanco, the Ministry’s Director of Hospital Services and Allied Health told us today that if and when Belize finalises this process – including strong laws – it still requires a shift in Belizean attitudes to make healthy eating a greater priority.

Dr.Jorge Polanco, Director of Hospital Services & Allied Health, Ministry of Health and Wellness: “That’s our challenge whereby people will ignore it but the point is that there has to be a very significant level of awareness by the public in general, the consumers and of course the importers. So coming back to your issue the underlying objective of these discussions is that we as a country of course spearheaded to a significant degree by the Ministry of Health is that we need to inform the public as to what this initiative is. If you notice the participation this morning we had a very good cross section of the stakeholders, we had the private sector in full force which is good and that’s exactly what we want because they need to be part of this discussions. They are the importers, the general public are the consumers and we as public officers should be the regulators as to what is the quality of food, as to what should be the labeling standards for the food that we eat. When you look at innocent children eating many foods that are extremely unhealthy you cannot really blame them as children, who needs to be blamed is the parents those who are in leadership who know better and should be able to be guiding the population as to what is healthy food. So as the name of the initiative the front of package warning labeling you notice it says warning, in other words we cannot really stop you from buying it but it’s out duty to inform you that this product is unhealthy, this product is healthy. Then you as the consumer, as the parent would then have that informed decision to say I will choose healthy food I will not pick up right now this food because I’m aware that it is unhealthy. So this public awareness which needs to pick up, which needs to be strengthened by the Ministry of Health and by everybody who has a role in informing the public is that they need to know, they need to be sensitized as to which products are healthy and unhealthy. So this topic front of package warning label in essence refers to having a label in the front part of the package that is very clear that the reader would say “Oops too much salt. Too much sugar I don’t want it I’m already hypertensive, I’m already diabetic or I have the risk of being diabetic, I’m obese for example I don’t want it.”

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