Barbados and other Caribbean Community (CARICOM) member states are inching toward having a long-awaited front of package labelling (FOPL) standard, as officials go back to the drawing board to choose one for the region.
However, one regional official is advising businesses to be ready for what could be “a battle” to educate consumers as they expect some pushback from non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
This comes months after an unsuccessful vote among CARICOM member states for a “high-in” octagonal FOPL model.
Dr Patrick Antoine, interim head of the CARICOM Private Sector Organisation (CPSO), disclosed that his organisation was now tasked with completing a CARICOM Impact Assessment Study that will help inform what kind of standard will be introduced.
Officials are said to be examining examples from the United States, United Kingdom, Brazil, Chili and Mexico.
A FOPL, also known as a warning label, indicates the basic nutrition information on the food or drink product such as the level of sodium, sugar or fat.
Around the middle of last year, six member states voted in agreement with a proposed “high-in” octagonal model, which was prepared by the CARICOM Regional Organisation for Standard and Quality (CROSQ). Three member states voted against it and six abstained. The number of votes needed for the draft to be accepted and recommended for approval was 75 per cent.
Addressing an online education and information sharing session hosted by the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) on Thursday, Antoine gave the assurance that the CPSO has been engaging stakeholders through extensive consultations and meetings with the private sector and relevant government agencies and ministries since its approval in June last year to continue research.
“All of this comes from the fact that the voting process did not yield the consensus that was required to pass the draft CARICOM regional standard on lebelling,” he told representatives of the Caribbean Chambers of Commerce (CARICHAM), the region’s chambers of commerce, retailers, manufacturers and importers.
Antoine said the deadline for the completion of the CARICOM Impact Assessment Study was shifted from December 31, 2021 to the end of this month.
He made it clear that any FPOL adopted in CARICOM would take into consideration its suitability for the region, as he reaffirmed his organisation’s commitment to tackling non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in the region.
He insisted that any FOPL “should not do any damage to our interest as net food importers without bringing a benefit to our society in terms of its impact on NCDs”.
Referring to the “high-in” octagonal FOPL model that was shot down, Antoine indicated that several concerns were raised about having only one model without testing the impact on costs to regional businesses, especially small and medium-sized enterprises.
“We were very concerned in doing that in the absence of knowing what the true impact on reducing NCDs would be. Those two things go together,” he said.
Antoine also cautioned that the FOPL model chosen should not impact negatively on product innovation, production, economic and social recovery, trade, poverty, employment, revenue and market expansion and integration of regional and global value chains.
Research carried out in Trinidad and Tobago estimated that the “high-in” octagonal model draft by CROSQ would impact about 90 per cent of pre-packaged products.
Antoine put businesses on notice that once the research was completed in a matter of weeks and a decision taken, then businesses should be prepared to ramp up their public relations and marketing campaign to help sensitise consumers.
“Once we get the study finished, it is going to be a battle for the attention of the public because the NGOs are going to try to find every single loophole to invalidate or diminish the recommendations and outcomes of the work that we do,” he said.
“It is unfortunate, but that is the signal that we see and what we have to do, rather than engaging, in a way is to demonstrate how this strengthens what is already on the table, in the interest of the community.”
Ahead of the voting last year, close to 400 regional health professionals and organisations became signatories to a month-long campaign that was led by the Healthy Caribbean Coalition to demonstrate their support for an octagonal FOPL.