Food Labeling War in Mexico Can Teach the U.S.

In 2019, Mexico implemented a groundbreaking law that mandated unhealthy food manufacturers to prominently display sugar and fat content on their packaging. Additionally, foods exceeding 37 grams of added sugar per 100 grams were prohibited from featuring mascots on their boxes. This move aimed to inform consumers about the nutritional content of their food choices, particularly targeting products like Kellogg's Fruit Loops and Frosted Flakes.

However, Kellogg's, the creator of beloved mascots Tony the Tiger and Toucan Sam, took legal action against the Mexican government, contesting the labeling regulation. To save their mascots, the company launched an extensive marketing campaign, which included creating a Spotify playlist, appearing in commercials with prominent Mexican figures, and even featuring their likenesses in drone-illuminated light shows above Mexico City.

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Despite these efforts, Too and Sam still grace grocery shelves, as Kellogg's has adapted its recipes to use allulose instead of sugar, resulting in only one additional gram of sugar per serving. Mexican officials foresaw this strategy and obliged corporations to disclose the use of artificial sweeteners, avoiding the categorization of allulose as a sweetener.

Kellogg's is not alone in contesting Mexico's policy. Coca-Cola and Kraft Heinz have employed a loophole by using dual labels, obscuring the warning label in-store, and dozens of other corporations have also sued, with some cases reaching the Mexican Supreme Court.

The U.S. is considering similar regulations, but experts anticipate numerous lawsuits from food companies. These legal battles highlight the significance of the issue and suggest the strength of the law in question.

Implementing mandatory front-of-package labeling in the U.S. may trigger a global trade dispute. Food companies argue that such policies could create unfair trade restrictions, potentially leading to punitive tariffs imposed by international trade tribunals.

Every detail of such policies will be disputed as food companies seek to influence regulations in their favor. While Mexico rejected most proposed changes to its packaging policy, this serves as a warning to U.S. regulators to expect resistance from the food industry.

Lastly, loopholes in labeling regulations will be exploited. Companies like Coca-Cola, Kellogg's, and Kraft have found inventive ways to maintain their mascots and minimize the impact of the labeling laws. This highlights the importance of providing guidance to retailers on how to display products effectively and the need for foresight in policy implementation.

These challenges underscore the importance of comprehensive and well-thought-out food labeling regulations for the benefit of public health and consumer awareness.