Israel to impose marking of unhealthy food products

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Manufacturers will have to mark products with high levels of sugar, salt and fat with a red label.

After long months of discussions, the Ministry of Health "Committee for Regulation to Promote Healthy Nutrition" submitted its food labelling recommendations today. According to the recommendations, food manufacturers will be required to mark food products containing high level of sugar, salt or fat with a warning label.

The label will be red, in order to make the warning clear. These recommendations will be implemented in three stages, with increasingly stringent regulations concerning the level of ingredients requiring labeling at each stage. The first stage will start in January 2018, the second stage 18 months later, in July 2019, while the last stage will come into effect in December 2020.

Food manufacturers will also be obliged to state the number of spoons of sugar in each food product, and the will be prohibited from advertising products marked as unhealthy to children.

Head of the Ministry of Health Public Health Services, committee member Prof. Itamar Grotto says, "This is an amazing breakthrough. In Europe and the US, there have been discussions on this for years, without reaching the decision to label. This is revolutionary."

Although the committee discussed recommendations to impose regulations on fast food restaurants, including recommendations to obligate fast food chains to list the number of spoons of sugar on beverages, the final report does not include such recommendations.

Grotto says, "This issue was discussed, but it is not part of the recommendations. At present, fast food is not marked. There is no regulation in the world that requires marking food that is not pre-packaged. We are considering listing calories in restaurants, an effort which has already started in some US states, and which we wish to join. This is on the agenda now and we might add other ingredients later on."

The poor suffer more from obesity

Today, the Ministry of Health revealed alarming data on the effect of nutrition on morbidity and mortality rates, as well as the way it affects the national health expenditure. The extent to which nutrition adversely affects health is directly linked to socioeconomic status. Overall, the section of the population which suffers the most from obesity, morbidity and other harmful effects of an unhealthy diet is also Israel's most disadvantaged population.

On the bottom line, Israel's annual expenditure on chronic disease and obesity treatment is NIS 16 billion (60% spent on treating chronic disease and 40% on treating obesity). It includes indirect costs such as incapacity, sick days and nursing.

According to Ministry of Health figures, malnutrition is responsible for 13.9% of fatalities - 5,851 deaths annually.

Israel is one of the countries with the highest sugar consumption, much higher than even the OECD average. Among other things, this is manif in the high rate of diabetes morbidity, which only has only risen over the years.

Israel is rated second in diabetes mortality among men, second only to Mexico. Among women, Israel has the third highest diabetes mortality rate, after Mexico and Turkey. The US is often cited as the world's greatest sugar consumer but it appears that even on this count, at least in relation to children, Israel fares worse. Israeli children consume even more sweetened beverages than children in America, the world's junk food capital. 41% of 15 year old girls reported drinking sweetened drinks daily, compared with 30% in the US. Among 15 year old boys, this figure is even higher, at 45%, compared with 37% among American children. For comparison, in Canada these rates are 12% and 21%, correspondingly.

Israel also has one of the world's highest rates of salt consumption, almost double the recommended maximum quantity, and even higher among children.

At least 51% of products will be marked as unhealthy

Israel's Ministry of Health has chosen to gradually follow the precedent of Chile, which has already imposed a marking of unhealthy foods, as far as the values requiring labeling at each stage of the program are concerned.

What do you expect food companies to do next year, until the law comes into effect?

"Perhaps they will use this year to improve foods. I believe that many food companies will make adjustments. We have two objectives: first, to inform consumers and second, to make food companies want to avoid labeling."

Committee member Prof. Itamar Raz says, "If the labelling results in products meeting the criteria we seek in one year, we will have made a huge achievement."

Will we see ingredients changing during this year?

"I believe that we will. I pushed for the labeling in terms of spoons of sugar because I want every kid to know tomorrow that when they consume more than 6-7 spoons daily, they eat sugar in excessive quantities."

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on November 21, 2016

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2016

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