Barbadian stakeholders are deadlocked over a common local position on a proposed draft CARICOM Standard for Front-of-Package-Labelling (FOPL).
The Barbados National Standards Institution (BNSI) has said that while there is agreement on the need for a nutrition warning label to help in the fight against chronic non-communicable diseases (CNCD) by informing people about potentially harmful ingredients, local manufacturers do not support the Chilean model recommended by CARICOM.
Technical Officer with BNSI Cheryl Lewis is hopeful that there would be consensus soon.
“It is still being debated as to what position would be taken on the model. There is going to be a meeting next Friday at which time we hope that we would have a national position as to which format of the model we are going to go forward with,” Lewis disclosed.
“The manufacturers are not in support of the model. However, they have not indicated what model they would [prefer]…it is not a case of having four options… it is a case of what format we are going to go with. So hopefully at the meeting next Friday, we would have a position regarding what…based on the two options on the table, which one is going to be endorsed and promoted,” Lewis told Barbados TODAY.
She said the other proposed model is the warning symbol of a magnifying glass, which is one of the Canadian models of presentation.
Questioned about the issue of costs over which manufacturers have been expressing concern, the BNSI Technical Officer suggested that that is now history.
“We have already passed that stage with regard to costs. So that is not part of the deliberations we have on Friday,” Lewis stated.
She also addressed the question of having a target date for the draft FOPL standard to be ready for publication.
“We had hoped that it would have been out since last year, but this has been going back and forth, back and forth for quite a while. Right now we don’t have a proposed date for publishing, but it is hoped that after this deliberation that will happen on Friday we will report back to CROSQ [CARICOM Regional Organisation for Standards and Quality] next week that sometime in the New Year then the draft would be circulated for final voting,” Lewis pointed out.
She explained that the proposed standard would by nature be voluntary, but because it is health-related the Ministry of Health and Wellness would be the state agency to make it mandatory by placing it into legislation.
The Small Business Association of Barbados (SBA), which is one of the key stakeholders is not in support of the Chilean model and has already expressed its concerns on the matter.
President of the SBA Dr Lynette Holder, a member of the National Monitoring Committee for Barbados on the proposed FOPL standard said: “There are some concerns from members of the committee, private sector and others with the proposed standard that CARICOM would have put on the table. Based on this vote and some objection from private sector entities that the Barbados position was at a standstill because there are some for and some against. So the matter could not go forward.” Dr Holder told Barbados TODAY.
“We had suggested in our brief that one…labels which state that a product is safe in a nutrient of concern without additional information would result in confusion and uncertainty for members of the public. The Chilean model that they proposed, in our view, does not give enough information to the members of the public,” she said.
“Our view is also that there is no evidence-based scientific study to ascertain the public’s view on labelling. Our view is that BNSI and other representative bodies did not do any kind of research, any kind of assessment really on the public’s view; and we felt that would lend to some uncertainty and even some misunderstanding of the nutritional value of some of the items being listed on the label,” the SBA president added.
Dr Holder said that a third concern is that the Chilean model does not reflect what obtains with this country’s main trading partners such as the United Kingdom and the United States of America.
“We felt that if it is that Barbados’ main trading partners used a particular label and they have a particular method of communicating this information, then it would be in Barbados’ interest to try as much as possible to adapt to that, to conform to that, that you have some uniformity across the products that we know would be going into our main trading partners,” she contended.
The small business association spokesperson argued that in the absence of such an arrangement, there could be some loss of business and exports for local manufacturers, both large and small.
Dr Holder also referred to a fourth concern which she identified as the lack of a comprehensive public education programme on front-of-package-labelling where the public would be educated on the importance of eating healthy and being able to properly read labels.
President of the Barbados Manufacturers Association (BMA) Robert Noel echoed some of the key concerns of his counterpart in the small business sector.
Noel, who is also president of the newly-established Caribbean Manufacturers Association (CMA) does not approve of the Chilean model for FOPL either.
“There is a lot of consultation that still has to happen. It is not an automatic thing. The question is why are we still trying to use the Chilean model? Why not something that works for the United States, or UK or Canada or whatever the case is,” he asked.
For him, the cost in implementing any new labelling is also of concern particularly as it relates to smaller manufacturers.
“If you have not decided on a front-of-label-packaging…the smaller manufacturers then have to go and try and implement something that is costly…because obviously there is a cost attached to it, it is not free. Then you have to go and get all of your stuff…hopefully it has been done already, evaluated by the BNSI…you made sure what you are seeing on your package is actually in your package,” Noel reasoned.
The BMA leader stressed that the larger companies would have to bear a higher cost for putting all of the required information on labels which he said could run them into hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“So we need to know definitively where we are going before we jump on the bandwagon in terms of the model we are using. This also affects the CARICOM Manufacturers Association which has just been brought into being,” Noel told Barbados TODAY.
He drew reference to “a tiny” package of a popular snack and asked where would a FOPL be placed on such an item.
“Obviously it would be clearer on a bigger package, but it would be challenging to put it on a smaller package. So there is still some hurdles to overcome…some more consultations to go on,” he stated.
Noel said whatever benchmark labelling standard is agreed upon, CARICOM must determine if the region wants countries which export to the Caribbean to use the same label.
“Do we demand from the UK manufacturers or the European manufacturers or the Canadian manufacturers or any manufacturer that they now have to adjust to what CARICOM would be looking for,” the CMA head declared. ([email protected])