By RICARDO CASTILLO
An old political catch phrase was that if you tell a lie enough times, it’ll become a truth. Up until Tuesday, Oct. 1, this philosophy seems to have been the prevailing motto of most Mexican junk food companies, which got a walloping with the country’s new labeling law. They didn’t see the lights have changed.
The pro-visible labeling law passed unanimously in the 500-voting member Chamber of Deputies, with a 455 vote in favor, zero against and three abstentions, to force, to put it grossly, junk food manufacturers to inform consumers truthfully about the content of their products with symbols, not just words.
In fact, after the deputies celebrated their victory in the ongoing struggle against rampant youth obesity and ensuing diabetes syndromes with an octagonal sign with white letters claiming ALTO to sugar, salt and saturated fats.
In this case ALTO, a word used in Mexico on street signs for STOP, does not mean stop. It means HIGH, which brings us to a whole different discourse, particularly when it comes to product content labeling.
As forecast (please see my article published in Pulse News Mexico on Tuesday, Oct. 1, “Labeling Law and QR Code Come to Mexico“), the members of the junk food manufacturing chamber, represented by a lobbying organization called ConMexico (meaning, literally, With Mexico) are in a frenzy. Not only that, but after the Chamber of Deputies voted, they summoned an emergency meeting of the National Self-Regulation Council (Conar, for Consejo Nacional de Auto Regulación), an organization of advertising agencies and media promoters to ask them for ways to stop the new labeling law.
There’s no question as to the fact that the stiff, strict and no-nonsense law is indeed irking the sweetened beverages, baking and bagged fries industries.
There’s no question as to the fact that the stiff, strict and no-nonsense law is indeed irking the sweetened beverages, baking and bagged fries industries. Can you imagine — if advertising complies with the law – Coca-Cola – that youthful sweet drink advertised nearly everywhere – tagged with a label that says “Alto en Azucar” (“High in sugar”)?
Indubitably, Femsa, the Monterrey–based consortia company Fomento Industrial Mexicano, is in a state of panic.
Their crown jewel beverage, Coca-Cola, has to tell its contents, including the much-touted “secret formula,” which, hearsay has it, the beverage is believed by some to still contain dosages of cocaine (de-cocainated, if there’s such a thing), as well as residues of the African nut cola, which I’m told, natives use to get high on. These were the original cough syrup contents of the drink. Panic indeed.
But also imagine Lay’s Fritos advertising that their product is fattening, contains high doses of fatty acids that can cause cholesterol, is greasy and is one of the worst T vitamins available (T meaning fried tortillas, which fritos, potato chips and all the hot spicy brandy fries in the Mexican market make up the bulk of junk foods you can get at your nearest convenience store).
The reason the junk food producers gathered with the Conar executives is because the new law, which, by the way, has not yet gone into effect, is intended to devise a new scheme of advertising that offers ways to move around it. Congress is imposing on all ads that the word “ALTO” may mean high, but also means “STOP” eating this product. The word is a double-entendre.
It’s been reported that Jaime Zabludovsky, executive president for the Mexican Council of the Consumer Goods Industry (Anprac), has met with presidential legal advisers Julio Scherer and Alfonso Romo in hopes that the new labeling law does not go into effect immediately, but rather, one year after it actually becomes law.
The law must still be approved by the Mexican Senate – a piece of cake – and then published in the Official Gazette in order to go into effect. The proposal was relayed to the Chamber of Deputies with no response from any of the political parties that voted for it.
The new law is wreaking havoc in the advertising industry as junk food is the most advertised product in television and radio. Once the law goes into effect, the name of the junk food sales game will have changed, and how!
The new law is wreaking havoc in the advertising industry as junk food is the most advertised product in television and radio.
There’s nothing new here except for the fact that nowadays some companies are complaining about the poor job of lobbying and public relations ConMexico carried out, particularly at the Chamber of Deputies. It is now being dubbed as “Operation Failure.”
For sure, the junk food industry is about to sail into dire straits.