Yury Caldera

Currently, Panama doesn’t have a national regulation on food for human consumption labeling. However, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry authorities have mentioned that negotiations with the member states of the Secretariat for Central American Economic Integration (SIECA in Spanish) have made progress to adopt the Central American Technical Regulation RTCA 67.01.07:10 – General Labeling of Prepackaged Foods (Prepackaged). At the same time, the Subcommittee of Labor, Health, and Human Services of the National Assembly restarted the meetings to review the Bill N° 265 on the Front Nutritional Warning Labeling.

I. Food Labeling Regulation

The applicable national regulation on food labeling uses as a reference the General Regulation on the Prepackaged Food Labeling (CODEXSTAN 1-1985), according to Article 21 of Executive Decree N° 437 from December 28th, 2018, which regularizes the use of Codex regulation when there is not any national regulation on a specific product. Therefore, until they adopt both RTCA 67.01.07:10 and RTCA 67.01.60:10 – Nutritional Labeling of Prepackaged Food Products for Human Consumption for people from three years old on, the regulation to be used will be CODEXSTAN 1-1985 and the Guidelines on National Labeling (CAC/GL 2-1985), specifically their current versions.

Nowadays, the only national regulation related to food labeling is Executive Decree Nº 219 from August 18th, 2020, which regulates the nutritional labeling of sugary drinks.  Article 1 and 2 establish that “national and imported sugary drinks must include the nutritional facts in the label, it must be written in Spanish, and this includes non-alcoholic sugary drinks, with added free sugars or added caloric sweeteners”. It also describes the requirements for the use of complementary labels when the nutritional information found in the original label is in a language different than Spanish.

II. Bill N° 265

Among this regulatory initiative’s purposes is to implement the front warning labeling for industrialized prepackaged products for human consumption with stamps, so the consumer can identify the products that exceed the recommended limits of nutrients faster, simpler, and in a more understandable way.

The most relevant matters of the bill are related to the categories of the warning symbols, critical nutrients, and other ingredients, as well as the shapes of the warning symbols and location, among other parameters described below.

  • Two categories are suggested for the nutritional warning front labeling:

a. Nutritional warning front labeling – “High in … “: It must be printed on the bottles or packages of the products containing: Calories equal or greater than 275 per every 100 grams; Total Sugars equal or greater than 110% of total calories; Total Fat: equal or greater than 30% of total calories; Saturated Fats equal or greater than 10% of total calories; y/o Sodium equal or greater than 1 milligram per calorie.

b. Nutritional warning front labeling – “Contains … “: It must be printed on the bottles or packages of the products containing sweeteners, trans fats, and/or caffeine.

  • The shape suggested is a hexagon filled in black showing the statement “High in … ” or “Contains …” followed by the name of the nutrient that corresponds, in the center of the hexagon, using capital white letters.
  • Spanish is the only language accepted for the nutritional warning front labeling and also for the general labeling, and the prepackaged food nutritional labeling.
  • To obtain the sanitary registration it is mandatory to present the nutritional warning front labeling of national or imported industrial prepackaged food products for human consumption.

III. In favor and against

The Food and Agriculture Organization for the United Nations (FAO), the Movement for Healthy Eating (MAS, in Spanish), the Pan American Health Organization (OPS, in Spanish), Organization of Nutrition and Dietetics of Panama (APND, in Spanish), and Healthy Panama Foundation spoke in favor of the new efforts of the Labor, Health, and Social Development Subcommittee of the National Assembly, which discusses Bill 265 on the nutritional warning front labeling.

As for the business associations, they have some reservations about the bill. They expressed it cannot be implemented in the country since it has not been adopted in other Central American countries yet.

Anyway, if Panama goes forward with this initiative, it will join countries such as Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela that already have laws and models for frontal warning labeling.