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Increasing the public health voice in globaldecision-making on nutrition labelling

Feb 03, 2020

To respond to the global noncommunicable disease (NCD) crisis, the Codex Alimentarius Commission (Codex), amultilateral United Nations body responsible for work on food standards, is developing global guidance for front ofpack (FoP) nutrition labelling. Guidance from Codex regarding FoP nutrition labelling at the global level will almostcertainly influence national policy making. This shift in Codexs activities towards standards to address NCDspresents new risks for achievement of public health goals, as a result of the high level of industry involvement inthis forum; there is a potential commercial conflict of interest held by manufacturers of products whoseconsumption could be discouraged by such guidance. In this Commentary, we examine the implications of Codexprocesses for developing robust global guidance on FoP nutrition labelling and identify opportunities to increaseconsideration of public health objectives. To date, there has been significantly higher representation of foodindustry compared to public health actors in Codex discussions on FoP nutrition labelling. Without a strong publichealth voice in Codex, the industry voice could dominate discussions on FoP nutrition labelling, such thatsubsequent global guidance prioritises future trade and profits over potential risks to public health. There iscurrently a critical window of opportunity for public health interests to be prioritised in this multisectoralinternational forum. The key public health priority for global guidance on FoP nutrition labelling is to ensureprotection of policy space for national governments to implement strong and effective regulation, and allow scopefor innovation. Public health actors can engage directly with Codex processes, at both the national and global level,and also need to raise awareness among domestic policy makersincluding with Ministries of Agriculture andIndustry, which often represent countries at Codexregarding the importance and effectiveness of FoP labelling inNCD prevention. Increased engagement with Codex processes represents a tangible new opportunity to strengthenglobal governance for public health, and move towards improved coherence between trade policy and healthprotection goals.

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