Can you imagine a soft drink packaging with a photo of the adipose tissue of somebody weighing 200 kg accompanied by a warning such as “Sugary drinks contribute to obesity”? Well, this was recently the subject of debate in the American state of California and what might have happened if they had finally approved theBill, which intended to label all sugary drinks with a warning similar to those found on alcohol and cigarettes about their damaging effects on health.
The Bill was intended to make it compulsory for producers to label all sodas and sugary drinks with more than 75 calories with a brief warning message about their effects on health.
Right from the word go, the initiative created an unfair bias compared to other products with high sugar content equally damaging to the health of consumers. Is a soft drink more harmful than, for example, any kind of industrial pastry filled with something similar to chocolate? Or than a tub of white label multi-flavoured ice cream? Logically this was the first thing that the soft drinks industry representatives claimed; if it were to go ahead, the warning was manifestly unjust, because it did not apply to other beverages and foods. In fact, according to opponents of the measure, only 4% of the calories in the American diet come from soft drinks intake.
After listening to all parties involved, the California State Assembly finally decided not to approve the proposal based on the notion (or fallacy, depending on how you look at it) that “the warning would have been the most effective tool to educate the public about the dangers of sugary drinks.”
This, in our opinion, is the crux of the matter. Providing information is one thing, but “demonizing” is something quite different. Placing an ominous warning on the product packaging is not the same as teaching a good lesson; it is a rather reductionist view of a broader or more global issue. Promoting a healthy lifestyle with good eating habits is a work in progress in which the lawmakers should indeed take part, but in another way. Rather than causing alarm with posters or threats, it is more about promoting and implementing policies that give rise to the conditions for children to learn from an early age that drinking soda or eating some candy are okay to do occasionally, but should in no way constitute part of the daily diet, as happens in many cases (especially in the USA).
Another question, if the motion had been approved, would have been how effective the warning would be, since the mandatory information that is already required on any food product is more than enough for it to go unnoticed if we add even more. Especially at a time when even online stores (in the EU) will have to publish nutritional and composition information on their products, with the imminent entry into force of Regulation 1169.