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Consumer and Health Groups, Researchers Urge Trump Not to Misuse Trade Talks to Undermine Nutrition Labeling

U.S.-Proposed Nafta Provision Would Kill Front-of-Package Info

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A broad coalition of health, consumer, and religious organizations, as well as 44 leading physicians and nutrition researchers, are urging the Trump administration to withdraw, and Congress to oppose, a controversial proposed plank in the North American Free Trade Agreement that would obstruct member countries from developing mandatory front-of-package nutrition labeling systems. The American proposal was first disclosed by the New York Times last month and was confirmed in Congressional testimony the next day by U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.

The Trump proposal “is emblematic of the abuse of trade agreement negotiations to undermine non-discriminatory consumer protections and harm public health,” according to letters issued today to Lighthizer and Members of Congress. “Consumers have a right to know what is in their food.”

CSPI first petitioned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2006 to create front-of-package nutrition labeling. Canada and Mexico are both considering their own front-of-package labeling systems. Outside Nafta, Chile has implemented a front-of-package labeling system that notifies consumers when foods are high in calories, saturated fat, refined sugars, or sodium.

The proposal advanced by Trump administration trade negotiators “flies in the face of World Health Organization recommendations, which call for mandatory, easy-to-understand, front-of-package labels,” said Dr. Jim Krieger, executive director of Healthy Food America and clinical professor of Medicine and Health Services at the University of Washington. “Big Soda and Big Food are behind this proposal, following the playbook developed by Big Tobacco to use trade agreements to block public health policies that they see as threats to their profits. Nafta should not be used to restrict countries’ ability to protect the health of their citizens.”

The Trump proposal “is emblematic of the abuse of trade agreement negotiations to undermine non-discriminatory consumer protections and harm public health,” according to letters issued today to Lighthizer and Members of Congress. “Consumers have a right to know what is in their food.”

“The broader question is whether our trade agreements consider public health, or whether they consider only cold, hard commerce,” said CSPI president Dr. Peter G. Lurie. “Front-of-package labeling would help Canadians, Americans, and Mexicans live longer, healthier lives, and would contribute to reduced health care costs in all three countries. Nafta shouldn’t be part of the problem.”

“In North America, we are undergoing one of the world's most serious obesity epidemics, mainly due to the consumption of unhealthy food and beverages,” said Alejandro Calvillo, Executive Director, El Poder del Consumidor, and member of the Nutritional Health Alliance in Mexico. “Consumers urgently need access to clear information and warnings about these products. A trade agreement should not defy the population’s rights to information and to health in the face of this dire health problem in our region.”

Signatories on the letters, organized by CSPI and Healthy Food America, include the American Heart Association, Consumer Federation of America, Earthjustice, Environmental Working Group, Food Policy Action, NAACP, New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Philadelphia Department of Public Health, Public Citizen, and Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut. Individual academic researchers on the letters include Lawrence J. Appel of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Maxine Hayes of the University of Washington, Marion Nestle of New York University, Anna Maria Siega-Riz of the University of Virginia, and Frank Hu, Frank Sacks, and Walter Willett of the T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University.

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Contact Jeff Cronin (jcronin[at]cspinet.org) or Ariana Stone (astone[at]cspinet.org).