Mexico’s ‘Junk Food’ Warning Labels Are Junk

Mexico’s year-old mandatory warning label law for food on the front of packages was designed to make Mexicans healthier choices and reduce their high obesity levels.

This law was in effect for one year.[,]”, or calories.” Another requirement is that food with the black octagon must not contain animations, cartoons or children’s characters.[,]packaging.

Mexican food producers and importers opposed the labeling laws, saying it was misleading, overly burdensome and paternalistic. But, Mexico’s government claimed that the law would cause Mexicans to eat 37 more calories per day. That would theoretically mean an average Mexican would lose nearly four pounds each year. Outside of Mexico, some also supported the labeling system. One example: Last year, a WHO regional office raved about the dark octagons, and awarded the Mexican government an award. It called the labeling scheme a “public safety innovation” and the most comprehensive and advanced regulation anywhere.

Early returns indicate that the law has had little impact.

A market research company and a business group found that sales of sugary drinks and junk foods have not decreased significantly in Mexico, more than one year after Mexico’s new food warning labels law was put into effect. Mexico News DailyIt was last week. Data shows that sales of certain unhealthy products may have increased in some instances.

That’s the conclusion of a Mexico-based market research group, Kantar México, which tracks food purchases made by thousands of Mexican households each week. Mexico News Daily also notes that a Mexican government agency says purchases of treats such as candy, chocolates, and soda were higher this past September than they were in September 2020—the same month the WHO rewarded the Mexican government for its purportedly innovative efforts.

Last week’s verdict was not as positive, despite the fact that the law isn’t working the way advocates claimed. Mexico News DailyReport notes that a Mexican official has praised the labeling program as a success, citing “[c]”Consumers now have more information and are better equipped to make smarter decisions.”

No matter whether Mexico’s mandatory food labeling has given Mexicans more information or not, it was there to inform people about the law. Its purpose was to help Mexicans—including obese and overweight Mexicans—make better food choices and lose weight. Supporters of the law have begun to move the goalposts and reduce the goals since the law didn’t accomplish that. For those who follow such ineffective and burdensome laws, the refrain will be familiar.

“The best thing supporters… appear able to say about the Chilean law’s impact to date is that consumers there ‘understand the regulation very well,'” I wrote in 2019, of a very similar labeling scheme in Chile. Earlier that year, I noted in a separate column that a glowing study on Chile’s labeling law had largely ignored that obesity rates had risen in the country since the law was adopted—possibly, in part, It is because the law—and that “the greatest impacts the study identifies are that most mothers are familiar with the law.” Huzzah?

2019 was a busy year for Mexican lawmakers as they were preparing to pass the current labeling legislation. I cautioned them against this move and said that “there is little or none evidence that food warning labels will reverse the obesity trend.”

These laws no longer work because they are not supported by evidence. It’s just that that evidence—that sales of some so-called “junk foods” have increased in Mexico since the labeling law took effect—now serves as further proof that mandatory food warning labels are a foolish scheme that doesn’t combat obesity.