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Some local manufacturers embracing new food labels

Published:Tuesday | December 10, 2019 | 12:13 AMJudana Murphy/Gleaner Writer
Julia Douett, director of the BSJ’s Standards Division.
Julia Douett, director of the BSJ’s Standards Division.

A number of local companies have started making changes to their packaging labels to highlight nutritional facts as the push continues to make consumers more aware of what they are eating and how these foods and beverages relate to lifestyle diseases.

Director of the Science and Technology Division of the Bureau of Standards Jamaica (BSJ), Dwight Ramdon, said that a high number of deaths from lifestyle diseases has resulted in heightened concern about dietary intake, including sugar, sodium, cholesterol, and trans fats.

The 2017 Health and Lifestyle Survey showed that one in three Jamaicans is hypertensive; one in two is overweight or obese; and one in eight suffers from diabetes.

Ramdon told a Gleaner Editors’ Forum last week that the new labels, which now have larger and bolder prints, as well as additional nutritional information, should assist consumers to make better food choices.

He said that while some manufacturers have requested the updated labels and the BSJ has facilitated them, there was no law mandating the practice.

“We have been able to add these additional parameters to our nutritional facts panel ... . We are able to do them as part of our normal testing regime,” he said.

While Ramdon was not able to recall how many companies have contacted the BSJ on the matter, he said the agency gets several requests monthly.

“Nutrition facts panels are is one of the most consistent inflow – minimum 20 per month, and remember, this is not ongoing. This is a one-time formulation. So if your formulation remains, the nutrition facts panel is valid,” Ramdon explained.

Julia Douett, director of the BSJ’s Standards Division, said that the agency was working on setting a standard to make it mandatory for manufacturers to place detailed labelling on products in the next two years.

“We also have other standards, which are now being discussed, to put some other kinds of warning labels on products ... if it is high in cholesterol, high in sugar, high in fat, or high in salt,” she said.

Ramdon explained that since the local campaign to reduce sugar consumption began, mainly beverage companies have contacted the BSJ to have products retested and nutrition labels adjusted.

He said that because of the sugar content, most beverages were not usually high risk because of short shelf life.

“Now that it is being reduced, we have to be a little bit more vigilant because the sugar acts as a preservative. Now that it is being reduced to about 10 or 12 grams per hundred millilitres, [there is a] concern,” Ramdon told Gleaner editors and reporters.

He pointed out that the BSJ has been finding creative ways to entice businesses to get more of their products analysed.

“We have even offered bundles,” Ramdon said, adding that the BSJ has said to some companies, “Don’t come in with one or two. Give me five and I can give you a volume discount.”