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Government looks at food packaging to address non-communicable diseases

Government, through the Ministry of Health and the Belize Bureau of Standards has begun consultations on Front of Package Labelling, FOPL. The initiative is part of a larger regional effort under CARICOM. It seeks to look at new requirements for labelling of prepackaged foods in an effort to address health concerns including non-communicable diseases and obesity. The Belize Bureau of Standards is spearheading the consultation process for the draft regional standard. The consultation seeks the input of pre-packaged label owners, importers, distributors and other key stakeholders. Dalila Ical has more.

Dalilah Ical: “ Marketing is big business and appearances matter. Done right companies can generate huge profits. While pre- packaged foods carry nutrition tables these are not prominent. The health value of pre packaged foods often become lost behind flashy packaging. Belize is now seeking to address this by joining other countries in the region in the CARICOM backed initiative that seeks to make changes to front package labeling.

Jose Trejo Director Belize Bureau of Standards: “It would require then for packaging of food to then identify to specifically label food that is high in calories, foods that are high in saturated fat, sodium and what have you so that would be a specific requirement of the labeling so it is in addition to what would be nutrition and those additional things that are on the labeling on itself.

Dalilah Ical: “But why the effort?”

Marvin Manzanero Director of Health Services: “Not everybody reads a food label.”

Dalilah Ical: “And as non communicable diseases and obesity continue to affect Belizeans the Ministry of Health is intimately involved.”

Marvin Manzanero Director of Health Services: “This becomes a prevention strategy. If you are doing food labeling that is telling somebody that this is an unhealthy food choice then it becomes a prevention measure. It has a trickle effect why because obesity has high rates in Belize. Diabetes, Hypertension and those that are associated to what we eat and physical activity but 90% of it may be associated with what we consume so we are pushing for frontal packaging labeling because it’s an investment in health down the road. You are going to have implications, savings if you will down the road in terms of health.

Jose Trejo Director Belize Bureau of Standards: “That is important for the consumer to be able to make a decision as to what he or she will chose to consume and that is a choice he or she will have to make, those healthy choices and so that is one of the things we are hoping to come out of this initiative.

Dalilah Ical: “It is similar to what has been done with cigarette packaging which now carry bold warnings of the health dangers of smoking but how does Belize get stakeholders on board and how will they be monitored should the standard be approved regionally?”

Jose Trejo Director Belize Bureau of Standards: “We can make it a requirement at random to get test certificates for particular foods from these countries for when they come into the country and that test certificate should indicate that what is on the nutrition label is exactly what is there. That test certificate will prove that. It is not as easy as one would want to think because we are talking about a $251 million worth of foods that we import which is about 14% of our total import bill. I think the figure is about $1.8 Billion for 2018 so it’s not going to be an easy thing for us to do but this is why we are looking at other countries to see how we will implement it, what are some of the schemes that they put in place to ensure that we put in a system that works that is not burdensome to trade facilitation because we are not here neither the Ministry of Health and the Bureau of Standards to impede trade. Our role is to facilitate trade.

Dalilah Ical: “ All technicalities aside the work is a step towards encouraging healthier choices especially for young Belizeans.”

Marvin Manzanero Director of Health Services:” It is also a means of educating children who might not be into food labeling reading but they see the color so they know green or it has a little check mark it is something that they are allowed to consume if they want.

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The feedback and comments will be submitted to the CARICOM Regional Organization for Standards and Quality (CROSQ). Other countries in the region are also conducting consultations with the public and private sectors at a national level. The hope is to have the standards in place by 2020.