PAHO promotes the octagonal labelling model in the region
22 diciembre 2017

Food and nutrition

Food Labelling. Several countries in the region are working intensively on national regulation of frontal food labeling. The numerous bilss under study are divided between those that adopt variants of the Chilean octagonal model and those that propose nutritional “traffic lights”, based on the use of different colours to indicate the nutritional contents of the products.

Considering this scenario, PAHO recommends the use of the octagonal figure with a black background and white letters, in a central position in the front labeling. It also suggests that the warning symbols are located on top of the containers and that they occupy an area not less than 30% of the labeling. The local representatives of the supranational entity work on multiple fronts to promote the systematic adoption of the octagonal model, arguing that the evidence shows that this is the easiest model to read by the human eye, due to the contrast that the colours present.

Below are the proposals under analysis in Brazil, Peru and Uruguay.


The meeting of the Working Group of the National Health Surveillance Agency (Anvisa) was held during November, with the objective of preparing a regulation proposal. The regional advisor of PAHO, Fábio da Silva Gomes, took advantage of the occasion to reinforce their recommendations in the matter and stressed that the systems must be simple and easy to understand for the consumers, since otherwise they are not effective.

Meanwhile, both chambers of the National Congress are working in parallel in the study of bills to improve the labelling of food products.

First, the Economic Affairs Committee of the Senate approved in late November the bill that creates stamps of different colors to indicate the nutritional composition of foods, which will be mandatory to print on the labels of packaging. The objective of the regulation is to educate the Brazilian consumer to promote a healthier diet.

According to the text, the nutritional information related to the contents of sodium, total sugars and saturated fats should appear in a prominent place on the packaging, and they will be identified by stamps of green, yellow and red colours, in order to be of easy understanding. The bill leaves to the law regulation, the task of establishing the type and degree of sodium, sugars and fats that a product must have in order to hold one stamp or another.

The Committee of Consumer Defense of the Chamber of Deputies, on the other hand, approved the report prepared by the deputy allied to the government Maria Helena Veronesse (Brazilian Socialist Party), which opts for the model of black stamps over those of color. In addition, the report adds a new seal with the caption “contains sweetener” for artificially sweetened products and regulates the advertising of these foods, forcing producers to include a warning of the health risks that can lead to their consumption.


In November, the Committee for Consumer Defense of the National Congress approved a report to regulate the food labelling. The issue confronted legislators from various groups, Ministry of Health’s officials (Minsa), consumer associations and representatives of PAHO. This report details the main outlines of the document, whose consensus formula creates a new warning format unprecedented in the region based on the traffic light system.

The Committe for Production, Micro and Small Business and Cooperatives included in its agenda the file on food labeling, authored by opposition congressman Daniel Enrique Salaverry Villa (Fuerza Popular). The report of the committee proposes its adhesion to the one approved by the Committee of Consumer’s Defense in November.

Furthermore, the report passed by the Health and Population Committee is similar to the criteria adopted by the Ministry of Health and PAHO, respecting the ministerial competence in regulatory aspects and the guidelines set out in the Regulation adopted in June and in the draft of the Advertising Warnings Manual. This proposal has the support of the local representative of PAHO, who has expressed in favor of the Chilean model, urging the legislators to respect the ministerial proposal. The main aspects of the regulation are detailed in this report, which adopts the Chilean model as a basis and foresees three phases in which the maximum permitted amount of sugar, sodium and fat in processed products is progressively reduced.

Lawmakers have not yet managed to address the issue, so the Health and Production committees postponed their opinion.


The Ministries of Public Health (MSP) and Industry (MIEM) have been working for several months on a decree that proposes the adoption of black octagonal warning seals. The project is viewed with good eyes by PAHO, whose representative in the country praised the management of the MPS, affirming that the entity is a model to follow for the health authorities of the region. This report analyzes the most important aspects of the project, which seeks to provide consumers with more information about the products they consume.

On the other hand, during the meeting of the Senate Health Committee held on Tuesday, December 5th, the opposition legislator Javier García (National Party) proposed to the Minister of Public Health, Jorge Basso, to analyze the possibility of implementing a comprehensive system of labelling for both food and drinks. Although to date there is no yet available, García’s proposal consists of diagramming a frontal label system, which and also considers the inclusion of warnings that allow the celiac to know what foods they can consume and the regulation of advertising aimed at children.

Next steps

The different regulatory processes advance independently in Brazil. The Senate bill, which already has the backing of the Transparency commission, will now be analyzed by the Social Affairs Committee. Thanks to a special procedure of the Congress, the initiative does not need to go through the Senate floor to begin its study in the Chamber of Deputies: it is enaugh with the approval of all the committess to which it was turned for this to happen.

The proposal of the deputy Veronesse was sent to the Committee of Economic Development so that its proceeding continues. After that it will go to the Family and the Constitution committees. As in the previous case, the legislation does not need to go to the Chamber of Deputies to enter to the Senate, it is enough with the endorsement of all the committees to be sent to the senators.

In Peru, the committees are expected to deal with the labelling projects in the coming weeks, after which the documents will be sent to the plenary for their approval.

In the case of Uruguay, several officials of the Executive Branch have announced that the final adoption of the decree is very close, despite the rejection of the private sector, which threatens to prosecute the issue to prevent the decree from taking effect. Meanwhile, the study of the matter in Congress will depend on the decision of Senator Javier García to present a legislative proposal on the matter.

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