By Sheria Brathwaite
Putting warning labels about salt, sugar and fat on food products, known as front-of-package nutritional labelling (FoPNL), could lead to further price increases, a leading importer and distributor warned on Wednesday.
Although he said the private sector supports front-of-package warning labels, Andy Armstrong of Armstrong Agencies has also questioned why Barbados along with other Caribbean Community (CARICOM) governments are insisting on using a single nutritional label model.
But Minister of Health Senator Jerome Walcott pushed back on the opposition to the stop sign-shaped labels, saying a front-of-package labelling system is supported by international health organisations and scientific evidence.
In an interview with Barbados TODAY on Wednesday, Armstrong said production costs associated with placing nutritional labels on goods will be passed on to consumers.
“If the products have to be over-stickered, there definitely will be an increase because you have to buy the labels; when the [goods] come in, you have to open up the cases, take all the products out, put the stickers on, put them back in the cases, seal up the cases again. So, undoubtedly, there will be an [increase] and for some smaller products, probably quite a significant increase in cost,” he said, adding that additional staff would have to be brought on to facilitate the process.
“In Barbados, we assume that those Barbadian producers will comply. So they will actually just change their labels to have these stickers to be part of the label. But there are a lot of big companies we deal with in the United States, Europe and China and other places and the volume that we buy in Barbados is not enough that they’re going to change the label just for Barbados. So that will mean if we want to continue to bring those products in, we would have to put stickers on all the front [of those packages] and in some cases, it just may not make sense because it may be too much money.
“People say a sticker is only like five or ten cents, which is true, but the bigger cost is going to come from hiring people to open up boxes, sticker them, put them back in boxes and so I don’t know, hopefully, maybe there’s still room to allow some flexibility,” he added.
Armstrong, a former president of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the private sector was concerned that only one model of octagonal labelling was being used – what he described as the Chilean model – when other models could be adopted. In 2016, Chile introduced black stop sign-shaped warning labels for packaged food and drinks exceeding limits for sugar, salt, saturated fat or calories
Armstrong said: “The Chamber of Commerce is very supportive of the whole idea of front-of-label packaging, but they’re saying why just choose one standard? We’re proposing to go with the Chilean model, which is the octagonal, but there are other models. Canada is the traffic light, the European Union has a similar thing, just a differently shaped label, and even the United States is committed to having something in place by January 1, 2026. So all our major trading partners will have some form of front-of-package labelling in place. So what we said is ‘why limit ourselves to just one shape?’ At least be open enough to look at the other shapes.
“For example, the Canadian one, maybe it’s a circle but it has all the information we want; allow us to use that one for Canadian products. So that was the argument. But whenever we make that argument, the first reaction is that we are against package labelling. No, we are not against it. It’s just [that] we felt that we shouldn’t just be constrained to exactly one model and one model which isn’t that popular around the world, and Barbados doesn’t do a lot of trade with Chile now.
“So we’re not quite sure why we would adopt their model rather than be open to looking at adoption models from our major trading partners. So require front-of-label packaging, but don’t be wedded to only one type, which is the Chilean model.”
Delivering remarks at a mass media campaign launch by the Heart & Stroke Foundation of Barbados Inc. earlier on Wednesday, Minister Walcott said: “Front-of-package labelling, particularly the ‘high in’ labelling system based on the Pan American Health Organisation nutrient profile, is not a novel concept. It is grounded in evidence-based approaches, recommended by reputable international organisations such as the World Health Organisation (WHO). The 2021 WHO NCD Best Buys emphasised the importance of implementing such measures to curtail overconsumption of harmful food ingredients, including salt.”
Earlier this month, the Barbados Private Sector Association (BPSA) came out in opposition to the proposed CARICOM Regional Organisation for Standards and Quality (CROSQ) black and white octagonal warning label because there should be more adaptable labelling systems favoured by major trading partners in the region.
BPSA chairman Trisha Tannis said the CARICOM model lacked real educational value for consumers and was being pushed as a one-size-fits-all solution to the complex issue of unhealthy food and beverage consumption.
CARICOM states are soon to vote on the implementation of the octagonal warning label.
If successful, the Council for Trade and Economic Development, made up of the bloc’s trade ministers, will convene in November 2023 to decide on the standard’s approval, including the fate of the octagonal warning label.