by Curlan Campbell
- Octagonal Front of Package Warning Labels form part of a suite of policy solutions
- FOPWL to be placed on food products “high” in sugars, sodium and fats
- “Now more than Ever: Better Labels, Better Choices, Better Health” social media campaign ends this month
For the first time since the 2007 Port of Spain Declaration, to stop the epidemic of chronic non-communicable diseases (NCDs), Caricom nations seem to be heeding the call coming from organisations and health professionals from across the region demanding they deliver on their promise to prioritise the prevention of NCDs through legislative changes.
In less than 5 days, the Caricom voting process on adopting the final draft of the Caricom Regional Standard for Labelling Pre-Packaged Foods Specification will cease. It is the hope that this document will form a significant part of policy changes once it is approved. The 40-page document outlines specifications for octagonal Front of Package Warning Labels (FOPWL) to be placed on the packaging of food products “High in” sugars, sodium and fats, according to thresholds outlined by the PAHO Nutrient Profile Model.
In Grenada, the National Chronic Non-Communicable Disease Commission (NCNCDC) and the Grenada Cancer Society and the Healthy Caribbean Coalition (HCC) advocate for the implementation of FOPWL on food packages to prevent chronic non-communicable disease which has been described as a health crisis in the region. FOPWL are labels that are applied to the front of packaged products allowing consumers to quickly, easily, and correctly identify when a product contains excessive amounts of critical nutrients, specifically sugar, sodium, and fat.
At present, civil society organisations such as the Grenada Cancer Society and the NCNCDC are conducting a massive social media campaign dubbed “Now more than Ever: Better Labels, Better Choices, Better Health” which will come to an end this month. The campaign conducted in partnership with the Healthy Caribbean Coalition saw the creation of custom materials, including video and photography, geared towards educating the Grenadian population on policies and issues related to NCDs.
In addition to the social media campaign, young health advocates in Grenada joined youth advocates from across the region for a FOPWL Call to Action at the National Parliament Building. These initiatives focused on bringing awareness to the general population about FOPWL and the importance of the policy in addressing obesity and NCDs in Grenada. But despite the Ministry of Health through the NCNCDC fully endorsing this initiative, the implementation of the policy will be determined by stakeholders identified by the Grenada Bureau of Standards. The voting process will follow the protocol established by Caricom Regional Organisation for Standards and Quality (CROSQ).
“The citizens of this tri-island state, and the region, need to be fully aware of what they are consuming. They need to know the contents of what is constantly being marketed to them. It is their human right to know. Indeed, the evidence is clear on the effect of overconsumption of sugars, oils and fats, and salt. The Grenada Chronic Disease Commission is looking forward to regional leaders’ strong approval and endorsement of the Octagonal FOPWL. Show the citizens of this country that you are aware and that you care,” said Dr Damian Greaves Chair, NCNCDC.
A study conceived by the Ministry of Health and Wellness of Jamaica, the University of Technology, Jamaica, and the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), revealed that octagonal warning labels with the words “HIGH IN” perform best in helping consumers choose healthier foods. This proposed evidence-based policy represents an essential policy tool of a comprehensive strategy to regulate obesogenic environments and combat overweight and obesity and diet-related NCDs in the region. Octagonal FOPWL is currently supported by the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States Commission (OECS Commission), Healthy Caribbean Coalition (HCC) and the United Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Additionally, over 300 Caribbean health professionals and over 40 regional organisations have publicly voiced support for the octagonal front of package warning labels to help consumers across the region protect their health.
Dr Greaves indicated that to make FOPWL a reality, the voting process mediated by CROSQ will need to be approved by stakeholders in Grenada and at least 75% of Caricom members states. Caricom Ministers of Trade will determine the final approval at Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED). Provided there’s a successful voting process, each country will then implement FOPWL nationally.
He said Grenada will be following the protocol as recommended by CROSQ which entails the establishment of a diverse multi-stakeholder National Mirror Committee identified by the Grenada Bureau of Standards. However, it has been identified that receiving buy-in from key stakeholders such as policymakers, manufacturers and distributors may present obstacles for the commission.
Dr Greaves said concerns have already been raised about the financial implications for the organisation to implement FOPWL as well as the impact of trade. “It is anticipated that the costs of FOPWL to food and beverage manufacturers will be limited to short-term, one-time investments of changing printing plates, and manufacturers will be given time to introduce the labels. The overall costs will be cancelled out by the long-term positive health impact. FOPWL does not negatively impact trade, once Caribbean companies meet the nutrient labelling standard of the importing country, they will continue to be capable of trading their products.”
Another pushback from manufacturers is the concern that labels may hinder the sale of the products. However, Dr Greaves said this will be an opportunity for these manufacturers to market healthier products for consumers. “This will however be the impetus required to challenge manufacturers to develop and market healthier products for consumers; joining in the all-of-society efforts to reduce the scourge of NCDs plaguing their families and the rest of the community. Currently, companies around the world use different ingredients to create similar products to meet the laws and regulations of the respective country. This demonstrates that manufacturers can create healthier products and as consumers, we should advocate for better food quality in the region. The implementation of FOPWL is a crucial first step, and a part of a suite of WHO best buy policies, for improving health outcomes in the region by empowering consumers to make informed decisions.”
Grenadians are encouraged to play their part in this process by learning more about the campaign through the Healthy Caribbean Coalition website (www.healthycaribbean.org). People can also reach out to local organisations such as the Grenada Cancer Society (GCS) and the NCNCDC for information that they are encouraged to share these resources with friends and family members.
“Grenadians can also sign a letter to our local Bureau of Standards and let them know you support FOPWL. This is crucial to ensure that our voices are considered when Caricom leaders decide on this important policy that affects our health. Grenadian academics and public health practitioners can also sign a statement of support that has been signed by over 300 Caribbean health practitioners. In addition, local organisations can sign an HCC regional statement of support for the Standard,” Dr Greaves said.
Octagonal Front of Package Warning Labels (FOPWL) form part of a suite of policy solutions, identified by the WHO.