Health warning

CARICOM countries vote on the adoption of new food labelling.

Caribbean Community (“CARICOM”) countries are waiting for the result of a vote on the adoption of a CARICOM Regional Standard for nutrition warning labels. A number of key regional health stakeholders, which include the Pan American Health Organisation, the Caribbean Public Health Agency (“CARPHA”), UNICEF, and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States, alongside 300 experts and 43 academic groups have supported the implementation of an octagonal shaped nutrition warning label.

A senior healthcare consultant in the region explained, “This is a campaign to help governments implement what they have already committed to do. Governments in the region committed to decrease the incidence of non-communicable diseases (“NCDs”) and there has been progress in some countries but less so in others. Health sector initiatives have been successful but those which require the whole of government or the whole of society, particularly with respect to food and physical activity, have made minimal progress. So, the regional technical institutions are supporting the governments in this effort – CARPHA, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (“FAO”) and other organisations are all trying to collaborate to move this forward.”

“This is a campaign to help governments […] to decrease the incidence of non-communicable diseases (“NCDs”) and there has been progress in some countries but less so in others.”

Senior healthcare consultant, Caribbean

Unsurprisingly, food and beverages companies strongly oppose the measures and have continuously attempted to slow down the process, casting doubts over the evidence of the effectiveness of the measure. A regional food and beverage executive believed now was the time for action, “Manufacturing in the region mostly takes places in Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, everyone else is watching them. When you look at the COVID-19 deaths, and how negatively it affected people with co-morbidities in the region – now is the time to get NCDs under control.”

“When you look at the COVID-19 deaths, and how negatively it affected people with co-morbidities in the region – now is the time to get NCDs under control.”

Food and beverage executive, Caribbean

Nutrition experts argue that clear food labels are a good first step to tackling obesity and NCD in a region where diets are dominated by processed and ultra-processed foods high in sugars, fats and sodium. A wellness expert explained the importance of the initiative, “In the Caribbean, we have some of the highest childhood obesity rates in the Americas including some of the highest rates of NCDs, particularly diabetes, in the world. The Caribbean stands out – so we have to lead the way. The region is spending millions on healthcare which it can’t afford, you can’t treat yourself out of this – the region can’t afford more heart bypass surgeries etc. This issue is going to remain important because NCDs have common risk factors to the four major causes of death in the Caribbean.”

The healthcare consultant thought that individual countries would eventually move faster than CARICOM, “I’m fairly confident that this will be implemented eventually, if we look at the CARICOM Regional Organisation for Standards and Quality (“CROSQ”) process for warning labels on cigarette packages, it took so long that some countries went ahead by themselves and eventually CARICOM caught up. So, I’m hoping that this process will follow suit – this is because the regional process tends to be convoluted.”

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