by Marion Nestle
Dec 19 2013

Chile’s new food labeling rules: Why can’t we do this?

A reporter in South America called yesterday to ask me about the new rules for food labels and marketing to children just issued by the Chilean ministry of health.

The rules establish nutrition standards for foods.  Products that exceed the standards will have to say high in sugar, salt, or fat in brightly colored labels (red, green, blue) on the front of the packages.

New Picture

The standards themselves are much stricter than anything ever proposed in the United States, even than those of the ill-fated Interagency Working Group (IWG).

New Picture

Sodas, for example, can only contain 15 grams of sugars per 8 ounces (they typically contain 27 grams).

I’m told that other rules deal with advertising to children (no toys, nothing specifically enticing such as cartoons).

How could this happen?

I’m not up on Chilean politics.  All I know is that these rules were proposed under the current president whose wife was behind the Elige Viver Sano program, one quite similar to Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move!

If you know something about the politics of this initiative, please write a comment.  I’d like to know more about this.  Thanks!

Update: Thanks to Dr. Corinna Hawkes Dr Corinna Hawkes, Head of Policy and Public Affairs for the World Cancer Research Fund International sends the following information:




  • foodrevboulder

    Heading to Chile to visit family next week. This should be a good topic for discussion!

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  • Gabriel León

    The original project did include a traffic light system (identical to the one approved in Ecuador) but during the law discussion the food industry did make a strong opposition to that system. Instead, we are using a black stop sign with “ALTO EN” (high on) for calories, sugars, sat. fats and salt (sodium). I have mixed feelings with this. On one side, we did set very stringent and exigent maximum levels, which is okey. We have serious obesity problems and we need to take actions to reverse that. However, with those very stringent limits and without the traffic light system, is very difficult for the general public to differentiate among products. For example, if one item surpasses the “high on” limit by 1% and other item does it by 90%, they both have the same black stop sign. Hence, with very stringent limits and a single way to inform that to the public, is very difficult to chose among similar products with substancial differences in calories/fat/sugar/sodium content. I don’t know if our system will be successful, but I have the feeling that for general public the picture is this: since everything have the black stop sign, then is irrelevant (because almost everything has the same black stop sign). That’s why am worried about. On the other hand, we set the limits in a very particular way: they were set on the percentile 90 of calories/fat/salt/sugar content on “natural foods”. If you have any comments on this I will be very happy to read it. Thank you!