Some 300 Caribbean health professionals and over 40 regional organisations have publicly voiced support for octagonal front of package warning labels to help consumers across the region protect their health. The health professionals and organisations are signatories to a one month campaign, spearheaded by the Healthy Caribbean Coalition (HCC), to demonstrate national and regional support for octagonal front of package warning labels.

This campaign comes as key stakeholders in CARICOM countries vote on whether Caribbean consumers will benefit from the introduction of octagonal shaped nutrition warning labels on the front of packaged foods. Voting is currently underway across CARICOM on the adoption of the Final Draft CARICOM Regional Standard (FDCRS) which contains specifications for octagonal front of package warning labels (FOPWL) to be placed on food products “High in” sugars, sodium and fats, according to thresholds outlined by the PAHO Nutrient Profile Model. These nutrients are of great public health concern as excess consumption is linked to obesity and non-communicable diseases (NCDs); which are a significant burden to the people and economy of the Caribbean.

Voting on the standard ends on May 31, 2021. The HCC campaign, supported by partners such as the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) has seen 300 individuals and 43 groups from across academia, the health sector and research putting their signatures to a statement of support for FOPWL.

FOPWL is one of a combination of key policies, which have been identified by PAHO/WHO as ‘Best Buys’ to tackle overweight, obesity and diet-related NCDs. Specifically, the octagonal FOPWL scheme allows consumers to quickly, easily and correctly identify packaged foods which are high in critical nutrients of concern.

Evidence, including a study conducted by the Ministry of Health and Wellness, Jamaica, the University of Technology, Jamaica and PAHO, has shown that octagonal warning labels performed better than all other front of pack labelling schemes in improving the capacity of consumers to make healthier food decisions in Jamaica. “This study validates the CARICOM Regional Organisation for Standards and Quality [CROSQ] proposal to use the octagonal warnings on food and drink products throughout the Caribbean,” said Dr. Anselm Hennis, Director of Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health at PAHO. CROSQ is the regional body overseeing the process, which has involved extensive national consultations since 2018 with relevant stakeholders including industry and commerce. The Standard which is strongly supported by the public health community will also catalyse innovation in the regional food industry.

With just about two weeks left until the CARICOM voting deadline, organisations and professionals across the region are sending a strong message to CARICOM that it is time to deliver on commitments made by our leaders since the 2007 Port of Spain Declaration to prioritise the prevention of NCDs through strong policies.

NCDs such as diabetes, cancer, and hypertension, are the leading causes of mortality, morbidity and disability in the Caribbean region representing 78 percent of all deaths and 76 percent of premature deaths. Additionally, rates of overweight and obesity in the region are among the highest in the world and most worrying among children, where 1 out of every 3 Caribbean children is overweight or obese.

To support this campaign and see a full listing of supporting individuals and organisations, please visit the HCC website at www.healthycaribbean.org.

Source: St Lucia Cancer Society

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